The Relay for Life is an annual event held in communities and towns across the country each year that raises money in the fight against cancer while also raising awareness of cancer prevention and treatment.
Nationally, this year marked the 25th year for the Relay, which began in 1985 in Tacoma, Washington, and Perry County celebrated by marking it with one of their biggest turnouts ever.
Campsites, food, and entertainment filled the park as members from 31 teams walked from Saturday afternoon until 6 a.m. Sunday morning. The opening ceremony kicked off at 1 p.m. with several events including a ribbon cutting on a new stage that will be used for events like the Relay, along with a ceremony recognizing those who have survived cancer. The walk began with the traditional first lap being made by survivors, with the event lasting all night as a way to symbolize that cancer is a disease that doesn’t sleep.
This year’s relay raised over $113,000, which will help fund cancer research that might someday lead to a cure for the disease, and Perry County Relay For Life Co-Chair Bob Turner says this is their ultimate goal with the most important thing right now being, honoring the survivors.
“To me probably the most important thing is honoring our survivors. Through the money, the research, the education, we are hoping that everybody’s going to be survivors and one of these days we will be able to get rid of cancer,” he said.
Even though the relay fell short of its goal of $150,000, Turner said that everyone did what they could to make the event a success despite the economy.
“It’s a hard time right now, but all the teams have really been out there working hard and they have done well. For the economy and everything, they’ve done great. People have still been giving their time, money, and whatever they can toward the event to make it successful,” he said. “We really appreciate everybody – the donations, the teams – for coming out and doing this and working with the American Cancer Society.”
Families, churches, businesses, and other civic organizations took part in the event, all with their own reasons for walking. Some walked in memory of a friend or family member who had lost the battle with the disease while others marched with someone they knew who was a survivor, and others just walked for a good cause.
The Avawam Pentecostal Church began participating in the relay about three years ago when they lost their pastor to cancer, but this year’s walk was dedicated to a family member of one of their members who lost her battle with cancer last year. Their campsite theme was “Clowning Around, A Cure Must be Found” which was appropriate since they say she was a clown herself.
“I had a cousin who did a clown ministry for First Baptist who passed away last year from cancer, and her mom and dad allowed us to use the outfit and wig that she wore,” said Jeff Ritchie with the Avawam Pentecostal Church.
The Maces Creek Crusaders, a team made up of three churches with one each from the Right, Middle, and Left Forks of Maces Creek, were walking in honor of six people who had lost their battle with cancer in the past year.
The Crusaders raised over $5,000 in an effort to “Make Cancer Walk the Plank,” and it did at their campsite as it dangled from the plank of their large pirate ship.
“We’ve had several folks in our family who have battled cancer, but this year is especially memorable to us because one of our good friends, Pam Williams, was with us here last year, walked the walk with us and went up on stage and told about being cancer free, and we lost her this past year. It’s difficult, but we know we are fighting for a good cause,” team member Donna Roark said.
The Relay for Life means so much to many different people, but survivors say it’s especially meaningful to them to be able to take part after overcoming the disease.
Kim Chaney, a two year survivor of breast cancer who teaches 11th grade social studies at Perry County Central, was already involved with the Relay for Life before she was diagnosed in 2006, but she says it meant so much more after she walked it as a survivor to see all the work that everyone puts into the event.
“It means a lot more to you once you’ve been through the process and you appreciate all the hard work that everybody puts into their tents and their booths to raise the money and all the things the American Cancer Society (ACS) does for you,” she said.
This is something she experienced first hand as she spent 43 days at the ACS Hope Lodge in Lexington, which offers free lodging to cancer patients who are receiving treatment in that area, and was provided with a wig after she lost her hair during treatments.
“People don’t know who all they are helping, but they know that it is for a good cause and they’ve got a big enough heart to participate in it even if it’s not affected them yet,” she said.
Marie Amburgey, also a survivor of breast cancer for 14 years, said that she didn’t know much about the Relay for Life until after she was diagnosed, but noted that she appreciates all the work that goes into the Relay as well.
“It’s awesome to take part as a survivor. It’s awesome to see the support of all the different teams that come out and the people who maybe haven’t been touched in their own families but care enough to give their time and efforts to support an organization that does all the wonderful things the ACS does,” she said.
One organization that participated had several members in the traditional purple shirts, which differentiate the survivors from everyone else. The Hazard-Perry County Senior Program marked its fourth relay this year, and Director Melissa Vermillion says that’s important because cancer has touched so many of their participants.
“It’s so very important for us to have a team because so many of our participants are cancer survivors. We look over at our area and see lots of purple shirts and we know that it’s important to remember. We feel it’s important that we recognize survivors and we remember those who have lost the battle,” Vermillion said.