Taking “Relay” to the Caribbean to Find a Cure

Taking “Relay” to the Caribbean to Find a Cure

Castaways Against Cancer Paddle 160 Miles

This year’s team features four teachers from Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School, a Miami-Dade firefighter and three paddlers from out of state. The two newest members of the team, Robbie and Stephen Keszey, are reality TV stars of the Discovery Channel’s new hit show Swamp Brothers!


“I decided to take the love of kayaking and the 24 hour Relay for Life and combine them. This is where we are 12 years later,” explains “Lieutenant” Steve O’Brien on the shores of the Casa Marina Resort.


Covered with ocean water, sweat and salt and seeped in memories of those he’s lost to cancer, O’Brien outlines the mission of his platoon of paddlers: to help find a cure for cancer and to honor those who have fought the fight.

“Castaways Against Cancer started in 1999 following my mother’s funeral. She passed of lung cancer. Six months later, my mother’s mother passed of lung cancer; then, a year and a half later my mother’s brother passed of throat cancer,” O’Brien opens up about the connection.

Teacher Eric Pino, who instructs American World History at Columbus Catholic High School, made the journey for the second time this year. He’s never been personally touched by cancer but felt compelled to grab a paddle and push off from his hometown of Miami to support O’Brien’s quest to find a cure.

“This was my first year in my own boat,” he said. “The most memorable times were probably sleeping on Elliott Key with these guys. The worse parts were the bridges. Paddling under every bridge stinks, especially the Seven Mile.”

Executive director of the American Cancer Society of the Florida Keys Carrie Helliesen and 2010/2011 event chairwoman Pam Kessler wave the paddlers in with pom poms as Janie Rodriguez (far left) and Eric Pino’s fiancé Mary Beth Jost standing at the edge watch with anticipation.

[pullquote]“The most memorable part of the journey is when you’re out there on the sea with a bunch of good guys. The feeling just can’t be described. It’s the most phenomenal thing.” Castaways Against Cancer founder, Steve O’Brien[/pullquote]

Averaging more than 22-miles a day, the Castaways paddled a total of 160 miles during the seven day journey. Waiting on the shores of our Southernmost City were his sister Christie Pino and fiancé Mary Beth Jost.

“To be honest,” he says in between photos, “I just paddle for people who suffer and I come here to support “O.B.” (Steve O’Brien).

Since their first trip in 2000, which started with just four paddlers in two kayaks, the Castaways Against Cancer have raised more than $250,000 for cancer research. The money supports the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of the Lower Keys.

This year, the team topped their annual effort by raising more than $40,000 earmarked for cancer research, patient services and educational programs available for all residents.

“The money does stay right here having a direct impact on our community and those living here,” said ACS Executive Director and cancer survivor Carrie Helliesen. “We awarded nearly a $20,000 to WomanKind this year to be used specifically to educate Hispanic women on breast cancer. Five such grants were awarded in the state.”

Female breast cancer is second only to prostate cancer as the most common form.

According to a research study conducted by the American Cancer Society, there are 113,400 new cancer cases estimated for the state of Florida. Lung, colon, bladder melanoma, leukemia, uterine and cervical follow in frequency the occurrence of prostate and breast cancers.

As of right now, there is no “cure,” just treatment. Everyone’s personal prognosis is different and depends on an individual’s health and response to treatment.

O’Brien, who calls the journey “the worse you’ll ever love,” is also a cancer survivor. Early detection in 2004 saved him from a more serious battle with colon cancer cementing his belief in education and more specifically encouraging all men at risk in his age group for early detection screenings.

“If you’re over 50 and haven’t been checked, get checked.”

To see pictures and movies or donate to the cause click  here.  cCall (800) 227-2345 to learn about quitting tobacco, speak with a cancer information specialist, make a donation or inquire about Relay for Life.





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