Saturday June 23, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Through his 11-year battle with bone marrow cancer, Rocco Errichetto was a determined participant in Relay for Life, no matter how he was feeling. Six years after his death, his wife, Madeline, still sets up a tent with her family at the annual American Cancer Society walk-a-thon.

"He always was here: He came in a wheelchair, with canes. So we're carrying on," said Errichetto, 70, who began to tear up. "Yes -- cry all day, today, tomorrow. I remember him."

At Relay for Life of Central and Southern Berkshire County, walkers and runners, each with a cancer story to tell, pound the paved path of Burbank Park in turns from 4 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. today.

Friends and family of Jeremy Tribula, who was 16 when he passed away in 2003, make a tribute to his memory using Snapple bottles and rubber ducks at the
Friends and family of Jeremy Tribula, who was 16 when he passed away in 2003, make a tribute to his memory using Snapple bottles and rubber ducks at the Relay for Life in Pittsfield. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
The annual event is expected to draw about 2,000 people to Onota Lake, about 500 of whom stay the night.

It's an emotional 24 hours. Lining the water are hundreds of tiki torches and white luminaries, each one a dedication to a local person who has or had the disease.

"It's like camaraderie for cancer patients and cancer survivors," said Dody Brady, logistics chair of the event who is fighting cancer herself. "Each bag, each tiki, represents a life. You can't look at it without feeling you could come to tears."

Sixty-nine teams set up fundraising tents that also act as home bases along the path. As of Friday afternoon, those teams had raised $112,000 for the American Cancer Society. Organizers expect that number to hit $270,000 by the time today is done, according to Laura Baran, a local representative of the ACS.

To help raise money, attendees could play Bingo, decorate hats and even "Dunk a Doc" -- with local physicians stepping into the dunking booth.

At the Central Labor Council's tent, corrections officers Bob Skowron and Kevin Nolli grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages donated by their employer, the Sheriff's Department, with proceeds of sales contributing to the ACS's total.

Nolli, 42, lost both parents to cancer. Skowron, 55, is a survivor of Hodgkin's disease since 1995.

"I think people come out to support us, and we try to support them as best we can," Skowron said, unpacking frozen burgers as he spoke. "We try to give it back."

Relay for Life draws many walk-a-thon veterans, but there are also, as some sadly noted, a lot of new faces.

"The list seems to get bigger every year," said Lesley Lifvergren, 55, a member of a new team there to support a friend going through chemotherapy. "It hits close to home when you have a friend."

Six months ago, 32-year-old Naomi Nicola was helping to raise money for others in Pittsfield with cancer. Then, she was diagnosed with bone cancer herself.

Breast cancer survivor Mary Hathaway, who has been attending the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life event since she overcame cancer 61 2 years
Breast cancer survivor Mary Hathaway, who has been attending the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life event since she overcame cancer 61 2 years ago, sits in the shade of a tent on the hot day at Onota Lake in Pittsfield. (Stephanie Zollshan Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Steering around Burbank Park in a wheelchair Friday afternoon, Nicola discussed how she felt lucky that her osteosarcoma hadn't spread, and that after femur surgery in January she was able to avoid chemotherapy. Since her diagnosis, she said, she's inspired other people to get their own moles or lumps checked out.

For those facts, she's grateful.

"It happened so I can teach others, help others," Nicola said. "It's tough, but I got through it."

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @mandface