As Largo's police chief, Lester Aradi plays the role of tough guy every day. When it comes to his loved ones, however, he's as vulnerable as the next guy.
On Friday night, as part of the opening ceremonies for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Largo, Aradi shared some of his personal experiences with the disease. His first wife died from breast cancer in 1999. He watched his father suffer a 10-year battle with throat cancer. Eighteen years ago, he helped his daughter, Jennifer Aradi, now 36, in her fight against melanoma.
"My story, although personal, is just a drop in the bucket,'' said Aradi, 58. "You know, everyone participating in the event had a story to tell, and when it comes to cancer, who doesn't feel vulnerable?''
Although the final numbers are not in, Relay for Life of Largo organizers believe more than $32,000 was raised. The funds will enable the American Cancer Society to support local services and resources for cancer patients and their families, as well as help support cancer research and education programs.
Two hundred individuals on 18 teams stayed at Central Park for the overnight event. Another 1,000 visitors came to the park to take part in different activities, including the Survivors Lap, in which cancer survivors and their caregivers, marched a victory lap around the park together.
For Jonathan Evans, assistant to Largo's city manager, coordinating the Relay for Life was not just a work duty. Evans lost his father to prostate cancer in 2004.
"The highlight for me was seeing the survivors and caregivers come together for the lap,'' he said. "It was very emotional.''
Aradi believes the war against cancer is going strong. "Every little bit of money helps in this fight,'' he said. "My daughter, Jennifer, fought melanoma 18 years ago, and I'm so proud to say that just yesterday, she finished the Boston Marathon.''