Relay for life

Cancer is a widespread disease that can happen to anyone. That’s why everyone is invited to fight the disease, celebrate cancer survivors, and honor those who have passed away.

Every year, communities all over the nation hold events called Relay For Life. The South Whidbey community is holding its ninth annual Relay For Life on June 23.

South Whidbey Relay For Life organizers hope to have 600 people, including more than 100 cancer survivors, participate in this year’s event.

Cindy Miller, publicity chairwoman, said the spirit at the event is a powerful one.

“It’s an awesome, awesome group of people,” Miller said.

“I think when you bring any group of people together that are working toward a common cause such as this, it’s an irreplaceable feeling.”

Relay For Life is an overnight event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. It helps those who have been touched by cancer, and empowers people to fight back against the disease.

During the course of the event, community members take turns walking or running laps. The idea is to have teams of participants keep at least one team member on the track at all times.

Phoebe Hostick, a relay organizer, said this goes along with the idea that “cancer never sleeps.”

South Whidbey’s Relay For Life team organizer Rick Stewart agreed.

“Cancer is a 24/7 type of disease,” Stewart said. “Having a team member on the track represents the constancy of the disease we are fighting.”

Games, bands and activities are scheduled throughout the evening and into the morning.

Stewart describes the local Relay For Life as a fair or

carnival-type atmosphere.

The light-heartedness of fun activities combined with a strong desire to make a difference creates an inspiring sight.

“It’s really uplifting,” Stewart said.

Cancer survivors are recognized during each Relay For Life; they kick off the event by walking the first lap. The opening ceremonies and survivor lap start at 6 p.m.

A luminary ceremony also takes place during the event. Community members decorate bags with the names of loved ones who have battled cancer and line them along the track.

Closing ceremonies take place at noon on June 24.

There is time to help out.

“We are still recruiting new teams so come on down and join your community in the fight against cancer,” Hostick said.

Individuals who want to help, but aren’t part of a larger team, are encouraged to come out. They can drop by and give a general donation, donate to a specific team or join a team.

Stewart said sometimes people feel as if they are donating and their money just disappears because it doesn’t go directly to a local organization. But that doesn’t mean the event doesn’t help the South Whidbey community.

“We’ve seen the impact locally,” Stewart said.

The Relay For Life organizer said cancer statistics on the island have shown a drop in cancer mortality within the last few years.

“People and families on the island are directly being helped by the research that is done,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to see the advancements that are being made. It’s a great event.”

Stewart is a cancer survivor himself.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July 2001 had surgery a few months later. He has since been cancer-free.

Stewart’s dad is a cancer survivor, as well. It’s a family tradition Stewart hopes not to carry on.

Stewart said he was thankful for the research that had been done on his common form of cancer.

But other less prevalent cancers haven’t received the same amount of research and more needs to be done.

“Early detection for prostate cancer has really caused the positive outcome that I have experienced,” he said.

“I know that much of the research that contributed to my positive results with prostate cancer came as a result of people like me raising funds for research for the American Cancer society and other organizations like it.”

Miller is involved with publicizing Relay For Life largely in honor of her sister.

“My sister died of breast cancer,” she said. “Oddly enough, my sister was in advertising, so it’s interesting for me to be taking on the advertising for the event. It’s kind of ironic, and also in her honor to be handling that part of it.”

Miller said that cancer has claimed not only her sister, but many friends of her family.

“I am so aware of the numbers of people who are affected by this disease, be it breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer or melanoma. I mean, it’s just everywhere,” she said.

The biggest part of the Relay For Life event for Miller is its ability to spread awareness.

She said her sister was under 40 when she got breast cancer, an age before mammograms become routine.

“By the time it was detected she was in late stage diagnosis,” Miller said. “She aggressively fought it for three years.”

Miller said if people come to the event and learn more about how to detect or prevent certain types of cancer, the effort becomes even more worthwhile.

“If we could just save one life, it would be worth it,” Miller said.

She added that over the last couple of years, the number of participants at the South Whidbey Island Relay For Life event has been in decline. Miller is hoping that this year, the slide will stop.

“I think maybe what’s happened with 9/11 and Katrina is that people are feeling a little stretched thin with the donation thing, but it’s not just about money,” she said. “It’s just about being involved and caring for one another and caring for our future and our children’s future.”

Miller said that being involved with Relay for Life creates an irreplaceable feeling.

“You are part of the solution. You are part of doing something for mankind,” she said. “What could be more important than doing our part in making the world a better place?”

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