Jo-Ann Bonenfant, Event Chair for Brookfield Relay for Life, has been involved with the fundraising event for eight years. She heard about it at work and decided to become involved after her father, Orain Ready, died of cancer in 1991 shortly after being diagnosed. Originally participating in Bethel's relay, she has relayed in her hometown of Brookfield for the last four years, since it began here.
"Little did I know that I would be going through the same thing a few years later," she said. Bonenfant was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2002. Only 5 percent of people are diagnosed with this type of cancer. But Bonenfant, being the fighter that she is, said "it was a temporary inconvenience. I was determined to kick it in the butt and get on with my life."
Bonenfant, a Brookfield resident for 15 years, credits her positive attitude and sense of humor with her ability to get through her fight. "God gave me another chance," she said. "We have made so many strides since then in cancer research."
"It all started with one person and one person really can make a difference," she said, referring to the founder of Relay for Life, Dr. Gordy Klatt.
Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Washington, started Relay for Life in 1985, walking around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Since its humble beginning, the power of what one man or woman can do is apparent in how much it has grown. Today it is the world's largest movement to stop cancer, with over 3.5 million people participating in the yearly fundraiser.
The theme for this year's relay is "Celebrate More Birthdays." The 12-hour overnight event will take place June 4-5 on the Brookfield High School (BHS) track, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday evening. This is a community event with police, EMTs and firemen all participating to help raise money and awareness.
The teams participating have between 10 to 15 members, and each pays a $10 registration fee. In addition to that, the teams have private fundraisers before, during and after the event. Each team member is expected to raise at least $100 in pledges.
Bonenfant's team, "The Busy Bees," includes her daughter Cassandra Bonenfant, a BHS senior and relay committee member. She said a lot of families relay together and she continues to participate "to bring hope, strength and support to other cancer survivors and their families."
Wild Iris Hair Salon will do hair cuts during the relay and donate the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. Other fundraisers will take place throughout the event as well.
Honorary Chair Debbie Bingman will speak at the opening ceremony. Judy Warner is the other Honorary Chair and both are cancer survivors.
A survivors' dinner will take place before opening ceremonies for cancer survivors and their caregivers Friday night at 5 p.m. in the BHS cafeteria. They expect approximately 150 people to attend the dinner.
There will be entertainment, fun and games throughout the relay to help keep people awake as they walk the track. According to the relay's rules, one member of each team must be on the track at all times.
Entertainment includes "Alay" Philippine Dancers, Dance Dimensions, Northeast Tropics cheerleaders and local bands such as Cubed, Zach + Pat Trio, Stateside and the BHS Chorus.
Brookfield's fundraising goal this year is $90,000 between the 48 teams participating. As of today, the top three teams are "Pink Extinct" with $3,356 in funds rasied, "Friends and Family" with $3,212 and "Clear" with $1,772. Brookfield relay is accepting funds through August 31 and donations can be given through their website. They are searching for corporate sponsors as well, according to Bonenfant.
T-shirt pick-ups took place last night in the BHS cafeteria and volunteers sold luminarias for the special candlelight ceremony that will take place Friday evening.
Bonenfant said she keeps fighting and encourages others to get involved as well "so our grandchildren won't have to go through this. Let's fight cancer and stop it."