Column: With Strength in Numbers, We Can Fight Anything—Including Cancer

Long Valley Patch's Gerard Longo explains his journey through a life-changing event, and how it has allowed him to help others.

Everyone has a cause that they fight for and in which they believe. Our fight could be triggered by anything; a loved one enduring a hardship, as well as any personal trials that we may encounter. My fight is against a disease that affects everybody, young and old, and takes too many lives too soon.

This is how I fight against cancer.

This cause is one that has, over the years, become increasingly important to me. To start, this past Friday marked my eight-year anniversary of being cancer-free. On April 15, 2003, I had my left ring finger amputated just two weeks after a very malignant—and very dangerous—tumor was discovered there. My hand was then re-constructed so I could continue to play football and resume life as normally as possible. In addition to that, I have seen numerous loved ones—some who have survived, some who haven’t—battle the disease courageously, and I like to do whatever I can to honor each and every one of them through my actions.

For a while, however, I wasn’t exactly sure how I could fight back against the disease. Of course, there were some obvious things I could do for my own health, such as not smoking, eating right, and exercising. However, I still had no idea how to reach more people. This was until 2007, when some close friends and I participated in our first ever American Cancer Society Relay for Life at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Finally, I found an empowering experience that could help me connect with other people touched by this disease.

What is Relay for Life? It’s an all-day and all-night walk under the premise that “cancer never sleeps”. It’s a fundraising event where people form teams, raise money, and participate in activities to promote cancer awareness, in hopes of one day eliminating the disease.

Since 2007, I’ve participated in Relay for Life events at Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA), DeSales University (Center Valley, PA), as well as one at West Morris Central High School, my alma mater, in addition to my annual stop at West Chester. I have spoken at numerous events at the three colleges; however, no experience was quite as unique for me as this year’s Relay for Life “tour”.

Back in February, I expressed an interest in speaking at DeSales’ Relay for the third year in a row. I was brought on to speak during the event’s “Fight Back” Ceremony, and had begun to prepare for my appearance. This appearance was a little more special to me than in previous years, however, as I knew that DeSales’ Relay was to take place on April 15 of this year—exactly eight years to the day where I was proclaimed cancer-free. After having that entire day to reflect on my fight and where the past eight years have taken me, I delivered my speech on what it means to survive and fight back against cancer on that cold spring night to the spirited DeSales audience. It was certainly a fun and empowering experience, as always; however, it would turn out that I was just getting warmed up.

All of the connections that I’ve built by participating in Relay for Life events for the past few years have certainly helped me to reach out to people in a number of ways. That notion, however, had never been truer before the weekend prior to West Chester’s annual event. That was when I was asked by the Survivorship chairperson at West Chester University to fill in and speak during their event’s Survivorship Ceremony. Seeing as my team and I were planning to attend the event regardless, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.

What made the opportunity to speak at West Chester so special for me is the fact that, although I had spoken at their Relay for Life “kickoff” event before, which takes place months before the actual Relay event itself, I had never actually spoken at West Chester’s Relay for Life event. Truthfully, it’s also a speaking gig that I’ve coveted since I’ve known exactly what Relay for Life is. I was always curious to know how I’d be able to speak at this event—by far, the largest of the events I’ve attended—and, after waiting so patiently, my moment arrived.

I took the stage on Saturday evening in front of more than 600 people from many different walks of life, but all of them were there because cancer had affected their lives in some way. Some of them were Survivors like me. Others were there to honor a family member or friend who had been affected by cancer. Regardless of our reasons, every single one of us was there to support and carry each other.

Standing on those two stages in front of all those people to tell my story this weekend allowed me to feel proud that I could serve as a voice for so many people. Furthermore, when I look at the way hundreds upon hundreds of people across Pennsylvania were able to come together this past weekend through tears, laughter, and ultimately, hope, it becomes clear to me that we, as a collective human race, have the power to fight this and any disease or hardship that comes our way. The key, however, lies in our numbers. The key to it all is banding together.

I encourage you all to get involved in a cause that is close to your heart. When we, as people, have something that we feel is worth fighting for, we are more adept to making the world a better place.

Official Relay for Life Website
Official American Cancer Society Website
Gerard Longo's Official Website (Includes videos of the weekend's highlights in the blog)

judi April 24, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Very inspiring story. I too, am a cancer survivor-twice over-I have walked in the Susan Komen 5K in Central Park in NYC and have done some Relay For Life walks in Sussex County NJ. Your story inspires me to continue my involvement and always fight for the CURE.
Gerard Longo April 25, 2011 at 03:19 AM
Thanks, Judi! Keep up the fight!
Gerard Longo April 25, 2011 at 03:20 AM
I just wanted to note that the above links got messed up somehow, in that they all link to my page. Relay for Life's webpage is http://www.relayforlife.org, while the American Cancer Society's page is http://www.cancer.org. Sorry for any confusion!


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