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Published on June 13, 2016

A 24-hour effort to fight ‘a cruel and nasty disease’A 24-hour effort to fight ‘a cruel and nasty disease’

Relay for Life

Steering Committee, Relay for Life

When it comes to the fight against cancer, Bonnie Lincoln, RN, is in it for the long haul.

On Saturday, June 18, she’ll take part in the Relay for Life for the 16th time. She’s also a participant in a decades-long study that the American Cancer Society hopes will yield new findings about preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer.

Lincoln, who has worked at Cape Cod Hospital for over 40 years, is a staff nurse who covers nights in the intensive-care unit.

“My family has been touched a little by cancer but not extensively, thank goodness, but my friends have been and the people I take care of have been,” she said.

“I find it to be a cruel and nasty disease. Many times there’s nothing I can do. I can perhaps give strength to people that have to fight it but I can’t change the outcome.”

One way Lincoln is part of the battle against cancer is as part of the steering committee for the Relay for Life of Mid Cape, a 24-hour event that starts at 10 a.m. on June 18 at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, 210 Station Avenue, South Yarmouth.

The Relay for Life is an overnight walk that raises funds for the American Cancer Society. Relays take place each spring in hundreds of locations across the U.S., including Wareham (June 18) and East Falmouth (June 24). Relays have already occurred this year in Orleans and Martha’s Vineyard.

Lincoln did her first Relay in 2001, the year Cape Cod Hospital’s Night Crawlers team became part of the event.

“At Cape Cod Hospital we had a 47-year-old nurse’s aide who had worked with us for a long time who died of cancer and we were anxious to find something that we could do in response to his death,” she said.

“He died in October and the next spring one of the night nurse’s aides heard about the Relay. We put together a team and sold food at the hospital at night to raise funds.

“Over the years, people have come and gone from the team. I’ve stayed with it.”

The Night Crawlers team has ranged from five to 17 members, all people who are or have been Cape Cod Hospital employees, plus a few family members. Most of the money they raise is from bake sales at the hospital and public yard sales.

“The Relay has a tremendous amount of competition from other events with everybody and their second cousin walking, running and begging for money,” said Lincoln, who lives in Brewster.

“With the Relay for Life, I feel like I’m putting my money where my mouth is. When I walk, I raise money that goes directly to research. It’s a good way to support people who have cancer or have had cancer and families who have lost people to cancer. It was set up as a 24-hour event to represent that fighting cancer is a 24-hour job.”

For Lincoln, each year is memorable, with a luminaria ceremony to honor people who are fighting, have fought or have died from cancer, as well as laps especially for survivors, caregivers and medical supporters – not to mention the late night fun of the pajama lap.

But a standout memory is from 2008, when she was asked to recruit people for the ACS Cancer Prevention Study-3, which will gather findings for at least 20 years.

“We get good stuff out of it,” said Lincoln. “It was a similar study in the ’50s that showed us the link between smoking and cancer.

“They gave me four hours at the event to recruit and we ran out of forms in three hours. We enrolled over 200 people – and then we did a victory lap.”

The local volunteers are among more than 300,000 nationwide.

“The feeling of satisfaction from that was just over the moon for me,” said Lincoln. “That’s 200 people working toward helping us find the causes of cancer and helping find a cure. It was overwhelming.”

Lincoln said the physical preparation for the Relay (“I get a new pair of good walking shoes once a year”) is easy compared to the logistics faced by the steering committee.

“We have to get ready to have 700 to 1,000 people on the field. How do you feed them? How do you keep them safe? How do you entertain them? How do you provide bathroom facilities? And then there’s a whole other section of how do you help the teams make money?

“It’s a team operation and it gives you a great sense of satisfaction. It’s a great group of people who are truly dedicated to this cause. We truly believe in it and we support each other. Through Relay, we’ve become a family.”

Learn more about another local Relay for Life team, the Rogue-bot Rollers.