Celebrate, remember, fight back: Relay for Life inspires healing and hope in the battle against cancer

April 23, 2011 7:40:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Pat Wallace remembers the faces, those seven or eight people she shared the room with each time she went to the clinic for chemotherapy. Allies, usually unknown, united against a common enemy, connected to IVs sending infusions of powerful chemicals coursing toward their critical task.  


"We had a weird bond -- not always knowing names, not always knowing diagnoses, but all knowing that the next week or two are going to be hard ... and not knowing whether the treatment will work or not." 


It was in New Orleans, Aug. 29, 2009, that Pat first discovered a lump that would send her to her doctors.  


"When I found out, the first words out of my mouth were, ''God, you''re going to have to take care of this one,''" she remembers. Pat is now cancer-free, grateful, and still processing the experience that changed her forever, as it inevitably does everyone it touches. 


"All the names on the prayer list suddenly took on images rather than being just letters on a page, for I now understood their trials, emotions and lifestyles," she shared. "I prayed differently than before. I asked God to strengthen us, first, to sit in the chair and have courage to receive the drugs, then protection from the myriad of side effects, and to give us physical energy that is so easily drained away."  


Fortified by her faith, her family and her church, Pat emerged on the other side of treatment a stronger person than ever before. She is a survivor. And survivors should be celebrated. 


Relay for Life seeks to do just that.  




One man''s passion 


Each year, more than three million people in 5,000 communities in the U.S., in addition to others abroad, take part in a global phenomenon that began in 1985, when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Wash., ran and walked around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. 


What started with one man''s passion a coast away brings about 3,000 participants each spring to Magnolia Bowl on Highway 45 North in Columbus to celebrate those who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease. Many more will take part in Relay events in Starkville May 6 and in West Point May 13. 


Debbie Stacy Blackburn and Lenny Ring are co-chairs of the 2011 Lowndes County Relay that will begin with a survivors'' reception at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 29. The public is encouraged to come out for opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. and activities that last until 6 a.m. the following morning. 


A cancer survivor herself, Debbie''s commitment is inspired, as well, by her brother''s memory.  


When Tommy Tuggle was diagnosed in 1995 with stage four melanoma, his sister promised him they would fight it. But that battle was lost six months later. Tommy was only 35. In 2007, the unimaginable happened; Debbie was diagnosed with stage one cancer. She credits her survival to her faith, and a dear friend who pushed her to get a problem checked out, to not put it off.  


"New tests and early detection helped allow me to be a survivor," stated Debbie, who became one of an army of dedicated volunteers who enthusiastically make Relay for Life a remarkable fundraiser for the ACS. 






The 6 p.m. opening ceremony -- including a release of doves in honor of survivors -- will kick-off a 12-hour event encompassing laughter, tears, levity, and moments of heartfelt silence.  


For months, teams have been creatively raising donations for the ACS and making plans for their Relay booth or site. Because cancer never sleeps, Relay is always an overnight event, and teams are asked to have at least one representative on the track at all times. As they walk, Magnolia Bowl will be filled with live entertainment and games ranging from tug of war to scavenger hunts, interspersed with some very special observances, such as a survivors'' lap at 6:45 p.m., followed by a caregivers'' lap.  


The luminaria ceremony at 9 p.m. will honor those who have been touched by cancer and remember loved ones lost. The names of all those in whose memory or honor luminarias have been donated will be read aloud, as walkers circle the track lined with hundreds of the glowing tributes. It''s a time that truly highlights the importance of continuing the cause. 




Fight back 


The American Cancer Society asks every individual to make a personal commitment to save lives by taking up the battle. It may be doing something as basic as getting a screening test, quitting smoking, or talking to elected officials about cancer. By taking action, people are personally taking steps to save lives and fight back against a disease that takes too much, they stress on their website.  


"If you''re going to do anything for yourself and your family, have that check-up, have that mammogram," urged Pat Wallace, advocating one of the most crucial front-line defenses against cancer. "I was fortunate we caught mine early. It''s everybody that''s affected -- it can affect the caretakers more than it does the patient, because the patient gets so much attention and the caretakers sometimes get none," she added. 


"We''d like to say thank you to the support of Lowndes County for having very successful Relays," Debbie praised. "This wouldn''t be possible without it; this is a truly a community that has taken up the fight against cancer." 


Celebrate. Remember. Fight back -- so that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day, cancer will be eliminated.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.