PREBLE COUNTY — Relay for Life is a time for community members to come together and celebrate, remember, and fight back against cancer. Preble County’s relay will be held this year Friday, May 18 through Saturday, May 19. While it may seem a long while away, the official kick-off open house is going to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 13, and is intended for people to learn more about Relay for Life.
For organizers and longtime participants, Relay for Life is a very personal thing. Almost everyone’s life has been touched by cancer in some way — whether themselves, family, or friends. There are many reasons people choose to participate in relay for life, but at its heart Relay is a celebration of life itself.
For longtime participant Tiana White, cancer has a strong link in her family.
“I do Relay for Life, because my father died when I was an eighth grader. Now I have lost my stepfather, aunt, and numerous friends. I feel that the best way for us to handle this is to try and find cures or treatments so we do not have to lose so many others to the disease,” White said.
“Relay for Life itself is a celebration. That is why we have a lot of activities throughout the day. Some of those are just for fun, while we try to have some educational activities so people learn a bit more about cancer and how to avoid it.
“We do the luminaria ceremony in memory or in honor of someone with cancer. We line the track area, our walking area, with the luminarias so they are glowing and burning all night long. Our ceremony itself, the names and pictures of the people being honored are shown on a screen and they are read off. Individuals may light the luminarias that they purchased themselves during the ceremony.”
White added, to fight back against cancer it is important to get tested and screened as recommended.
“Relay for Life is also a fundraiser. We are raising money to go towards research to try to find cures or other treatments that can be used to fight back. We also encourage people at Relay to sign pledge cards where they make a pledge to how they fight back personally. It might be getting a preventive exam, wearing sunscreen, or eating better – just making promises along those lines,” she said.
Relay for Life always begins by highlighting the survivors themselves, allowing them to take a lap and be recognized before other participants take to the track. This spotlight reminds the audience of the sacrifices survivors have to make and of those survivors that have been lost to the disease.
Paige Gabbard was diagnosed with breast cancer stage IIB in December of 2005. She finished chemo in 2006 and had a preventive surgery in 2008. According to Gabbard, her cancer being in stage IIB means it could show up elsewhere, but as of now, it has not spread. She is still on a maintenance medication and is checked every six months.
“I’m a survivor so celebrating with people who understand is very comforting and everybody has a point of reference to the same experience. Nobody’s experience is identical, and it is great to explore all of the differences that people experience, but yet a lot of the same emotions and perspective come out of it,” Gabbard said.
“It’s kind of bittersweet. You realize all that are lost, because of the luminaries. I have been in the community of cancer – fighting and surviving — and losing people you work with is hard. Sometimes you have what is called survivor guilt. It is so cruel, you don’t understand the rhyme or the reason for who goes and who stays. It is like a lottery.
“It is encouraging to fight back, because you get to see advances in the prognosis and survival rate. We don’t have a cure, but we do have great strides in how the treatments are administered. They are very promising. Even the preventative methods they have come up with are a way to fight back. You have to get that message out to people. It is a simple test, do it. Fighting is catching it early and supporting any organization that is going to help find new treatments or cures.”
If interested in learning more about Relay for Life, the kick-off meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. at Bruce Elementary School.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH