The American Cancer Society's (ACS) Relay For Life 24-hour fundraising event held at the Ward Rhoden Stadium over the weekend drew more than 180 people forming 14 teams.
>The American Cancer Society's Relay For Life drew almost 200 supporters, volunteers and survivors for the 24-hour long fundraising event.
Similar events are held in communities all across the nation as a way of celebrating the fight of cancer survivors and remembering those who have succumbed to the disease.
This is the first time a Relay for Life event has been held in Crook County. Deschutes County held their first such event only six years ago.
"The purpose of the Relay is to raise awareness of cancer, promote early detection and prevention as well as raise money to provide patient service, programs, advocacy and to fund research to find the cure," explained ACS spokesperson Dawn Carlile.
The American Cancer Society has funded cutting edge research leading to breakthroughs in treatment for leukemia such as cord blood transplants and Glivec, which was approved by the FDA just this last spring.
Volunteers from Crook County had previously participated in events in surrounding communities and were eager to start one here. "It didn't take long to get enough volunteers to form a committee," Carlile explained. "The volunteers spent 10 months planning this year's event and will start on the 2002 relay in September."
A number of activities kept participants and supporters engaged and entertained. A Survivor Celebration was held Saturday morning during the opening ceremonies and was attended by 46 survivors along with friends, family and caregivers.
Those who volunteered time and effort became involved for a variety of reasons, including cancer having touched their lives in very personal ways.
Prineville's Marty Carlson was among those attending the opening ceremonies. She was also one who walked the relay as part of the TOPS team.
"I got involved in the Relay because, like almost everyone else, I have lost loved ones to cancer, and this was an event that I could work into my life," she said.
Although teams were asked to have a member on the track during the full 24 hours, relays were accomplished in shifts to accommodate a person's willingness and ability. Rocking chairs lined one end of the track for those who preferred to contribute their time in a more relaxed fashion.
The event began Saturday morning with survivors walking the first lap. For some, this was the most relevant part of the offerings. "I wasn't expecting it to be so emotional, but to see all the survivors line up and take that first lap around the track was really touching for me," Carlson said. "To see friends and neighbors out there that you had no idea had fought that kind of battle with cancer was inspiring."
A luminaria ceremony was held that evening to remember those who have been lost to cancer, and to honor those who are fighting or have won their battle, with this dreaded disease.
In all, 319 luminarias (candles in decorated paper bags) provided a circle of light around the track at the stadium, burning brightly through the night. "They lit the luminary bags in succession with those honoring fathers and mothers first, then those honoring or memorializing children, and other family members, friends and others until all were lit," Carlson said. "Then they were left to burn around the track until daylight offering a soft glow for the volunteers who walked through the night."
The local event was dedicated in honor of Sally Wilhelm and in memory of Greg Merritt. Wilhelm, a locally celebrated survivor who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, is undergoing the new treatment Glivec, formerly known as STI-571.
Merritt was a Crook County resident, farmer and businessman who died last year while undergoing chemotherapy.
Reportedly 89 percent of the funds raised at this event stay in the northwest region. The goal of this weekend's fundraiser was to raise a total of $28,750. Although the effort fell a little short of the goal at $20,772, enthusiasm for the event, and the awareness raised by the project, seems to have left a lasting mark on participants.
"One thing that surprised me was the love that you could feel out there. People were feeling good about what they were doing and it showed. There was a jubilant atmosphere," Carlson said. "I have never done this before but will certainly plan on doing it again if I get the opportunity,"
Anyone wishing to contribute to the ACS effort may do so by calling Carlile at 877-221-3072, ext. 24, or write the American Cancer Society at 2350 Oakmont Way, #200, Eugene, Ore. 97401.