More than 2,500 people attended the Greater Waterbury Relay for Life this past weekend, and the awe-inspiring event would not have been as successful without the tireless efforts of a Naugatuck woman.
For the third consecutive year, Pereira, a middle-aged mother of two, has chaired the annual event.
Like most people who attend the touching ceremony aimed toward raising awareness of cancer and money for cancer research, Pereira became involved with Relay 13 years ago for personal reasons.
“Seventeen years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and my grandmother died of cancer when I was five months old,” she said. “My husband’s father died of lung cancer and my children had never met him. …This disease affects so many people in so many ways.”
The goal for this year’s 18th-annual Greater Waterbury Relay is to raise $250,000 - $13,00 more than was raised last year. All of the proceeds go toward cancer research, and Pereira said the money raised in Greater Waterbury goes toward local organizations and hospitals – such as Yale University - that conduct cancer research.
The event brought 81 teams mainly from Naugatuck, Waterbury, Prospect, Bristol, Middlebury and Wolcott.
Although it rained Saturday morning, Relay organizers clearly were not concerned. The Greater Waterbury Relay for Life Facebook status revealed intense optimism:
“Cancer doesn’t quit, rain or shine. Let’s make this year mighty fine... Everyone grab your rubber duckies and your favorite rain gear, let’s celebrate birthdays one more year...Relay is open/free to the public... Invite everyone!”
A Massive Undertaking
Though the event is just a day long, it takes several months of planning to make it a success. Relay Planning Committee meetings start in September, and the teams officially begin organizing in January.
Pereira says she became involved when her mother started a Relay team 13 years ago.
“My sister and I originally joined to be supportive,” she said.
After their mother beat cancer, the sisters continued to stay involved, and over the years, Mary Pereira took on more leadership roles within the organization.
Twice, she has walked while pregnant. Her daughters – Caroline, 10, and Olivia, 7 – have attended relay events every year of their lives, and their father, Manny Pereira, is also heavily involved throughout Relay weekend.
The Pereira girls help with fundraising efforts throughout the year; they collect donations at Naugatuck public schools and at local Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants.
Event planning takes up many hours for Mary Pereira and the thousands of people involved in Greater Waterbury Relay for Life. But Mary Pereira said it’s worth every minute.
“What makes it worthwhile is that this is a community of some of the strongest people you’ve ever met in your life,” she said. “All we have to give up is 24 hours. I can’t imagine going through chemo and not wanting to get out of bed the next day or suffering through all that comes with cancer. And all we have to give up is one day in our lives to help these amazing people.”