The Roman Catholic Community of Geneva’s youth group now includes several nearly bald teenagers.
Sean Dolan and Matthew and Brian Dinan forfeited their hair June 17 during the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. During the relay, which was held at Geneva’s Hobart and William Smith Colleges, volunteers shaved the heads of 161 people and one dog, said Matthew, 17.
“I liked getting my head shaved. My hair grows pretty quickly. It does feel kind of weird and it looks kind of weird the first time you see it in a mirror, though,” said Sean, 14.
The head-shaving was meant to show support for cancer patients who might be embarrassed about losing their hair during treatments, he said. Sean, Matthew, Brian and their 158 hairless human peers had hoped to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records by beating the previous record of 188 people having their heads shaved at the same event. Although they didn’t manage to break a world record, they did raise money for American Cancer Society research and programs. Thirteen-year-old Brian, for example, was able to raise $40 in pledges for the society.
The Relay for Life began in 1985 in Tacoma, Wash., and has grown steadily since then, with relays held annually in more than 4,500 communities across the nation, including Penn Yan, Seneca Falls and Palmyra. The world’s largest grassroots fundraiser, the relay has raised more than $1.3 billion since its inception and was expected to raise more than $300 million this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society.
During the overnight relay, teams of 10 to 15 people walk around a track, with at least one person from each team being on the track at all times throughout the night. The night usually begins with a survivors’ lap and also includes a candlelight vigil, during which luminaries bearing the names of both cancer victims and survivors line the track and are arranged to spell out the word “hope.” This vigil is Brian’s favorite part of the relay, because he can see the names of his mother and grandmother among the luminaries.
The relay has been a part of Brian and Matthew’s lives for the past five years. They participate not only to raise money for cancer research, but to show support for the cancer survivors in their family.
Their mother, Julet Dinan, first heard about the Relay for Life in 1999, the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her family participated in their first relay in Geneva while she was still undergoing treatment, and their involvement with the event has grown since then.
Dinan is now the chairperson for the Relay for Life in Seneca Falls, and the event has become a family affair. Dinan walks the relay’s survivor lap each year with her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. Dinan will celebrate her fifth cancer-free year this July, while her mother will celebrate four cancer-free years.
“It really makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re doing something useful about a disease that is so difficult,” Dinan said.
The American Cancer Society has been involved in some way with every new development in cancer research, treatment and legislation, she said, noting that she took part in a study — partially funded by the society — that ended up helping her mother a year later.
“There’s some tough moments. The first time you see a candle for someone who has died in the past year — that’s hard,” Dinan said.
One family present at this year’s relay had just lost a family member to cancer that very day, Dinan said. The relay always provides a good bonding experience, and that family just had to come to the relay, she added, to be surrounded by people who understood.
Each year the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva’s youth group holds a special prayer service at midnight, Matthew said, noting that this is the most meaningful part of the evening for him.
“It can be very powerful. It kind of helps us separate ourselves from the festivities that are going on,” he said.
Jaime Dolan, 15, participated in her first relay three years ago at the suggestion of Walter Savaria, the community’s religious-education director and youth-group leader. She enjoyed the experience so much that she has participated in the relay every year since.
“You just don’t let go of it, and you just keep doing it,” she said.
Like the Dinan family, Jaime knows a lot of cancer survivors, so the event carries a deep meaning.
“It just shows how many people have gone through it and what they can accomplish,” Jaime said.
Although heavy and persistent rains forced the relay to end early this year, Dinan and Matthew agreed that the event is good for students to participate in.
“It’s a wholesome activity, and it teaches the kids about doing something for other people,” Dinan said. “It’s both a triumph and a realization of the work that we still have to do.”