By JEAN HAVENS
Celebrating life and raising awareness are key goals of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
It’s also a way to raise funds for cancer research and to support those battling the disease.
Local organizers met Friday to begin planning this year’s event, which begins at 6 p.m., Friday, June 21, at Northeastern State University.
“The Relay itself is actually a celebration of survivors and remembrance of those who lost the battle,” said Lela Stowers, public relations and publicity chairwoman for Cherokee County’s Relay. “It’s an emphasis on fighting back.”
Doug Baker of Cushing, an ACS Hero of Hope ambassador, spoke to the group about the importance of the event. Participants are tasked not just with raising money, but with educating the public on the support ACS gives to those fighting cancer.
“You need to know how much power you have when you give [those with cancer] that phone number,” Baker said. “Most people are unaware of the support the ACS organization gives to those in need, and how much the funds raised during Relay events help.”
The toll-free phone number – (800) 227-2345 – provides a connection between those suffering from cancer and a network of support providers.
“The line is important, because a lot of people are discouraged,” said Sarah Hall, chairwoman for the Cherokee County Relay for Life. “When they call that number, those on the other end of the line encourage them so they can carry on.”
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, Relay teams camp out overnight, and team members take turns walking or running around a track or path at a local high school, park, or fairground. Events last up to 24 hours, and each team has at least one participant on the track at all times. Donors make pledges to team members.
According to Hall, 32 percent of the money through the local event goes to cancer research for a cure. A portion comes back to the community to help cancer patients with expenses, travel and treatments.
“The money you raise is going to some awesome research,” Baker said.
According to Baker, Relay team members should have a personal attachment to someone who is struggling with the disease.
He began fundraising when his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Hers was not the mainstream variety, which proves the disease is unpredictable in its attack.
“We had gone through and exhausted all that we could go through,” Baker said. “We blogged and told everything that was going on in her life.”
‘Everything’ included chemotherapy, trial drug studies, radiation and IV therapy.
Through it all, Baker said, his wife always had joy in her life.
“She was an incredible prayer warrior,” he said.
She lost her battle a little over four years later, but Baker continues to speak out for others.
“You don’t know much power you have until you Relay,” Baker said.
Participants in the local event establish teams, and they raise funds from the kickoff date until day of the Relay.
“We usually have 20 to 30 teams each year,” Hall said. “This year, our goal is 30 teams to raise $85,000.”
Vanessa Farrow is a team development leader, which means she helps recruit new teams and members.
“We also hold team captain meetings to update them on things like how much money we’ve raised, fundraising ideas and upcoming events,” Farrow sad.
The meetings also inform the teams on why they are participating and help keep them inspired.
“We work like a support group,” Farrow said. “We let survivors know they’re not forgotten. We want to end cancer.”
Fundraising for the Cherokee County campaign starts right away.
“We’re forming teams now, and would like them to get to work raising money,” Stowers said. “We want them to raise funds before the Relay actually begins.”
According to Stowers, the goal of each team is to have at least one cancer survivor walk during the 12-hour relay, at least the first lap during the opening ceremony.
“Sometimes they are pushed in wheelchairs,” she said. “For the second lap, their caregivers will join them.”
Melanie Bolding, relay survivor chairwoman, said caregivers are also the focus of this year’s program.
In addition to the walk, the Cherokee County Relay For Life features speakers, music, and games; teams will sponsor different activities at their campsites, Stowers said. A meal is provided for team members, all cancer survivors and their caregivers.
The local Relay will host a Luminaria Ceremony about 10 p.m.
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