METHUEN — Men and women, ranging in age from their teens to their 60s, stopped to shake Patrick Spain’s hand.
Yesterday afternoon, Spain, a 33-year-old colon cancer survivor from North Andover, shared his survivor’s story with hundreds of people gathered at Nicholson Stadium to kick off the city’s fifth Relay for Life, the national fundraiser for cancer research.
Methuen’s relay, started by high school students who began the first planning nearly six years ago, quickly grew into a community event that attracted almost 1,000 people this year on more than 90 teams, according to local Relay organizers.
“When I see the high school and the grade school kids (involved), I’m absolutely blown away,” Spain told the participants just before the Relay began.
Indeed, residents of all ages walk the track for the 24-hour event and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Children ran under a sprinkler in the field behind the track to cool off, teenagers held their faces in front of a misting fan at the concession stand, young adults walked with their relatives and grandparents sat under tents to escape the sun as temperatures climbed into the lower 90s.
Scott Yim, one of the original student chairs of the Methuen Relay and a recent Harvard University graduate, said the event has become a tradition for the whole city.
“This is no longer our event, but everyone’s in Methuen,” he said.
Spain shared his difficulty dealing with colon cancer, a diagnosis that caught him off guard because he did not have a family history and ate a rather healthy diet. After chemotherapy and surgeries, he suffered complications and endured what could be embarrassing treatments. But the treatment and exams were more important, especially in the early diagnosis phase.
“I spoke with a woman who’s going to (get a colonoscopy) Monday because of my speech. She’d been putting it off for a year,” he said.