When a person gets a cancer diagnosis, a time limit usually comes with it — the patient has so many years, or months, to live.
When they beat the odds and smash through that limit, it’s a cause for celebration.
The 18th annual Marion County Relay for Life at USD 408 Sports and Aquatics Center on Saturday was a chance for dozens of cancer survivors to celebrate with loved ones and friends, to honor those who have passed away, and to raise nearly $30,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Bev Wilson of Peabody, a 10-year survivor of breast cancer, was there because of a bond she feels with other cancer survivors.
“Once you’ve been there and walked in their shoes, you have empathy for other cancer patients,” Wilson said. “Even if I don’t know these people, I know what they went through.”
“I’m a 15-year survivor, and very proud of it,” Margie Sandwell of Marion said. Sandwell was first diagnosed with colon cancer that eventually spread to her liver and lymph nodes.
“I had 60 chemotherapy treatments,” Sandwell said.
Sandwell echoed the sentiment of many survivors, saying cancer has given her a greater appreciation for life.
“It makes you very thankful to get up and see the sunshine,” Sandwell said. “It makes you humble.”
American Cancer Society community manager of development Melissa Easterberg said around 56 cancer survivors registered for the event. Easterberg worked to reshape the relay to address what the participants wanted.
“This year’s been a little different — we started off with no committee, but the teams were out there fundraising,” Easterberg said.
“We’ve been getting some things back they really wanted to see. They wanted the survivor dinner back,” Easterberg said. “Normally a Relay for Life is a 12-hour event, from dusk to dawn. This event is going 6 to midnight — that’s what the participants wanted.”
After dinner, all the cancer survivors gathered behind a large white banner with the word ‘HOPE’ on it, and walked around the indoor track for the traditional survivors’ lap. At 9:30 p.m. a memorial reading of 600 names commenced, accented by the glow of nearly 1,000 luminaries bearing their names.
“This year they wanted to hear the names read again,” Easterberg said. “The survivor lap and the luminaries are the heart of the evening. That’s why we’re here.”
With no committee in place, Easterberg turned to Marion High School and enlisted the aid of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club. The Relay for Life is a national priority for FCCLA, Easterberg said.
FCCLA sponsor Myrta Billings said her students were ready and willing to help.
“They got the door prizes, they got the MHS Singers to sing, they got Doug Kjellin to sing, they came out and helped put up the banners, they’re going to help run the games, and they’re going to help clean up tonight,” Billings said.
Easterberg said that including Saturday’s total, Marion County Relay for Life has raised almost $450,000 in the 18 years it has been held.