AYER - Hundreds have participated over the years in Ayer to help raise money for cancer research. If you haven't joined before, local volunteers hope you, your families and your co-workers will lace up your shoes for this year's massive Greater Ayer Relay for Life event as the American Cancer Society celebrates its' 100th birthday.

To get involved, there is a massive Kick-Off Birthday event this Friday, Feb. 1 in the recreation hall at St. Anthony's in Shirley from 6-8 p.m. The event is free and open to all.

There will be food, music and games for the kids. It will be an opportunity to find out how you can help with the Greater Ayer Relay for Life weekend event, scheduled for Friday, June 21 overnight into Saturday June, 22.

Darlene Chesbrough, a Greater Ayer Relay For Life committee member, has been involved in the effort for the last four years. Chesbrough walks annually with her co-workers at North Middlesex Savings Bank, which is a perennial sponsor for the event.

Chesbrough walks for many reasons, "The money raised at Relay enables the American Cancer Society to deliver on its mission of helping people stay well, helping people get well, finding cures and fighting back against the disease."

But it's also personal for Chesbrough. Among her inspirations is her sister who survived uterine cancer.

"My sister had undergone a full hysterectomy due to cervical and uterine cancer. She was only 28 years of age and the mother of three young children," said Chesbrough.


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Her sister hadn't seen a doctor in five years when she was diagnosed. The birth of her third child sent her sister in for prenatal care when the cancer diagnosis was made. "She is alive and well today thanks to the treatment that she received," said Chesbrough.

The Ayer Relay For Life Committee are seeking teams to join the hundreds who lap the track overnight at Ayer-Shirley High School in Ayer that June weekend launched the first day of summer - the summer solstice, June 21.

For the uninitiated, be forewarned - it's no mere walk-a-thon.

It's more a be-in with continuous activities for all ages, all day and night long. Walking alone, in pairs, or teams throughout the night, the Relay For Live is an annual experience that unites the community in the battle to find a cure for cancer by raising dollars for cancer research.

The walk is an opportunity to celebrate the lives of those who've succumbed to cancer, and to celebrate the lives who have survived cancer. It's a sea of smiling faces united for a cause.

Chesbrough admits - she was unwittingly recruited four years ago to volunteer to help with the Ayer walk. But she'd participated years earlier in the Gardner area Relay For Life walk.

Gardner's walk is big, but Ayer's is more intimate, said Chesbrough. Chesbrough is appealing to local businesses and civic organizations throughout the area to field a team and hit the field walking.

A team can be comprised of family members walking in honor of a loved one. A team can be comprised of a scouting troop looking to make a meaningful contribution to the community. It can be individuals who've battled - or are battling - the disease. Teams can contain any number of people.

Overnight there's food for the walkers; there's music. There are hourly contests for participants. There are theme hours (like Hawaiian hour, where participants slip on leis, grass skirts and their best Luau wear, for example).

Teams can wear matching t-shirts and hats. Teams create unique names for their squad - some funny, some pun-ny, and some are named simply in tribute to those whose lives have been affected by cancer.

Chesbrough says the more, the merrier- literally - as teams and walkers camp out around the grassy fringe of the track and take turns walking laps all night long to ultimately "make the journey more bearable and less lonely for those fighting the battle."

Chesbrough said the walk itself is an amazing experience, "Walking the track during the late evening and early dawn hours is something that cannot be described in words. You have to experience it for yourself."

At this Friday's event, teams will be registered.  A team can consist of any number of people. You can also register your team online at http://tinyurl.com/RFL2013AYER.

There's also an opportunity for area businesses to participate by donating goods or services. Prizes and gift baskets are warmly welcomed to provide premiums up for raffle at the drawing table.

Also, businesses interested in performing on-site services during the Relay for Life are being solicited. This year, there is a special TLC area being planned for pampering walkers. Greater Ayer Relay for Life would like to hear from you if you can help provide massage therapy, manicures, and hairstyling over a couple of hours during the opening hours of the walk on Friday, June 21.

The American Cancer Society and the Greater Ayer Relay For Life Committee would like to invite all area groups, churches, businesses and other community members to come and celebrate the kickoff of a new Relay season with us. Teams of children walkers are warmly welcomed.

If you can help - or want more information about Friday's kick-off event, contact Darlene Chesbrough at (978) 772-2666.