She was only 14 years old when she passed in 2000. It was a mere three years earlier that she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was Alicia DiSandro, of New Lenox.
Her parents, Nick and April, with the help of Alicia's five siblings, keep her memory alive as well as cope with her passing while trying to find a cure by being the local organizers of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life in New Lenox. This year's will take place Friday, July 15, at Lincoln-Way West High School starting at 6 p.m. and running through the night until 6 the next morning.
Mom and Dad are the New Lenox event co-chairs; they started out as team captains when New Lenox was part of the Mokena/Frankfort event and have been leading New Lenox's own event since its start in '08. Their oldest son is the Lumanaria Chair. Another son is team captain of the “4 Alicia” team in his sister's honor. To this day, April said, some of Alicia's old teachers remain active volunteers with the effort. However, the DiSandro family and all they do seem to be just the tip of the iceberg.
There are currently 33 teams registered with more than 230 participants, and that's just fund-raising walkers. To pull off the actual event, more volunteers will be needed at the event.
And what an event it will be, as all relays are. Designed to honor survivors and raise money for cures, a relay is also considered an event to which the public are invited.
To raise awareness and encourage the relay walkers, entire families are encouraged to attend. While there, guests can participate or simply watch, including the inspiring sight when the first lap is taken by only cancer survivors and the beautiful sight, the Lumanaria ceremony.
Each team will have a fundraiser set up within their camp at the relay for walkers and visitors to partake in. Those fundraisers will include games or the sale of some item with all proceeds being added to that teams total collection for ACS. In addition, there will be a DJ playing music all night long in addition to an inflatable “jumpy” for the kids.
And though it's been months in the making, it is still not too late even to get a team together.
“It's never too late to do that,” April said. “We have people the last month that put a team together and come out.” Meanwhile they report doing very well so far this year—“excellent” as April put it. American Cancer Society staff member and local representative Kelly Castaneda said the group is “Slightly ahead of (this time) last year.”
And April even pointed out that with the current economic concerns in every corner of life, “Everybody kinda expected that we would drop off over the past several years in money be we have somehow managed to keep making more and more money and getting people involved in stuff.”
Frankfort/Mokena Relay Nears
The shared relay event is also ahead of last year in regard to donations and could be on target to make the goal of $186,000 in donations, according to Myra Kocsis, the ACS rep for the Frankfort/Mokena Relay.
Like the New Lenox Relay, the Frankfort/Mokena event will also be a family affair with the general public encouraged to come by not only for moral support but also to participate in similar fund raising efforts with activities, food and other sales.
Both events will also include a Survivor's Dinner to honor those who have fought cancer. The event is closed to the public but each survivor is invited to bring along one person who has been supporting them through their battles.
New Lenox's dinner is at 7 p.m. July 15 while Frankfort/Mokena's is at 5 p.m. June 10. Another difference between the two is with the generous support from Enrico's Italian Dining in Frankfort as sponsor for the Frankfort/Mokena dinner; Enrico's owner Harry D'Ercole has been named Honorary Event Chairman.
One other key difference between the two will be with the Frankfort/Mokena site hosting an enrollment for a huge cancer study for people who haven't been diagnosed with cancer. The Cancer Prevention Study-3 is the Cancer Society's effort to “help researchers better identify the lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors that cause or prevent cancer.” Participation takes just a few minutes that evening with a short, anonymous follow-up questionnaire a few weeks later as well as every few years.
April pointed out, though, that it is not all about the donations, or even the research; it's about the people: “The money is important, obviously. Hugely important (and) they do a lot of great things. But I think it's just as important in people's lives that we're connecting with here.”
She continued and discussed another participant who lost her daughter last year; that daughter was the same age as Alicia when she passed, showing the shared hardship the participants face and illustrating the reason they continue to fight.
“You're surrounded by people that are going through the same stuff," April said.