Relay For Life, an annual event to benefit the American Cancer Society is more than a fund-raiser. It is a time for communities to come together to honor those who have battled cancer - remember those who have died, celebrate those who survived and support those who are currently facing the disease.
I first became involved with the event when I was living in the Texas Panhandle. My dad who is a DJ was asked to provide sound and music for the Relay in the Oklahoma Panhandle where he lived and where I was raised. He talked me into bringing a team even though I had to rally everyone long distance and meet up with them at the event. I wasn't familiar with what RFL was, but I quickly caught on.
While teams spend months raising money for ACS, the evening of RFL is a way of bringing people together for the cause. The event usually lasts about 12 hours and is aimed to resemble a cancer patient's battle. RFL kicks-off with survivors taking the first walk around the track, followed by the teams joining them. Throughout the night, a member of each team is supposed to be on the track. People camp at the site, play games and take time to reflect. The night gets long and the walk gets tough, but once daylight starts to reveal itself, it's a glorious moment.
My first RFL was cut short due to a flash flood. It had been months since my area had seen rain and a down poor quickly flooded out the valley of a football field. I came back the next year with my friends to try RFL a second time. It wasn't difficult to talk them into participating.
Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. Although none of us had a family member or close friend who had died from the disease in our memories, we were honored to be part of the cause. It was a fun experience, and we made it the entire night.
It was only a few months after that RFL became more personal for me. My grandmother was diagnosed with bladder cancer in October 2003, and she died six weeks later. It was very fast. I didn't realize how quick it could be. That following summer I participated in RFL in a different aspect. Instead of leading a team, I filled my dad's shoes in providing sound and music for the night since he was in the hospital.
I missed being part of the team experience. I wanted to be involved, and I wanted to do something to honor my granny. As a member of the Student Alumni Board at my college, I presented the idea of having a team to the group. The other members were excited about the event and wanted to support me. The only question they had was how we were going to raise money. We were all busy college students - involved in several projects and organizations and many of us working as well. Whatever we did had to be simple and bring in the most money for little work.
I was determined to make it happen. I found an old toilet that was to thrown away at a nearby church camp, and painted it maroon - the university's color. With the help of a friend, I mounted the toilet to a child's wagon.
A sign was placed on the wagon that read, "Flush Out Cancer." Members of the organization took turns moving the wagon from office to office around campus as faculty and staff paid us to send it to their co-workers. It was a blast and brought much attention to RFL and the ACS. Soon word about the little maroon toilet being dragged around campus was everywhere.
After two months of transporting the wagons - we had to paint a second one because the first was broke - we had earned a good portion of money and went to RFL in Amarillo, Texas. After the event, my fellow students and organization members asked if we could do it again. I was taken back. I said there was one scheduled in the Oklahoma Panhandle, but we'd have to raise more money. We couldn't do another campus fund-raiser, and the second toilet had taken a fall and broke.
After scanning the alumni building for ideas, I finally found our new project. It was a six-foot long buffalo - the school's mascot - painted with yellow and maroon flames. It was eye-catching and easy to assemble. Soon a sign was placed on the buffalo that read, "Stomp Out Cancer." We were back in business. The buffalo was taken from home to home in Canyon, Texas much like the toilet had been at the university. The first home we dropped the buffalo at was the mayor's house. When we met her to pick up the yard ornament and collect a check, she told us she had been out of town for a RFL in San Antonio. She told us her story about being a cancer survivor and how proud she was of us for what we were doing. She said if we had any problems with people in town, to give her a call.
It was a tiring summer of taking phone calls at all hours and finding someone to help disassemble and move the buffalo. The buffalo held up through Prairie thunderstorms and stray animals. It stood throughout the entire summer, finding a new home almost every day. While the fund-raiser was a fun thing for the community, the thought of my granny laughing at me each time I made a move meant a lot to me. This was for her - for all those affected by cancer.
Juneau will hold its RFL on July 15-16 at Dimond Park. It's not too late to be involved. A team can be put together and fund-raising can be simple and fun. To get a team together, call Rowena Reeves at 364-4440.
Each team has their own story - their own reason for participating in RFL. It might be a reason to do community service or because of the loss of a loved one. One reason unites everyone - hope. The hope that someday there will be a cure - that fewer lives will be lost to cancer.
Amanda Gragert is the editor at Capital City Weekly.