For the past few years, on a balmy Friday night in June, cancer survivors, their friends and families have gathered at one of the local parks, staying up all night to commemorate loved ones lost to cancer, and to celebrate the lives of survivors at the American Cancer Society's signature activity: The Relay for Life.
"Everyone knows someone who has survived cancer and unfortunately most people know someone who has died from cancer," said 2005 event chairwoman, Kathy Igielski.
She is not a cancer survivor herself, but was inspired to make a difference by several family members who are cancer survivors.
"My mother has given me the most inspiration. I was in high school when she was diagnosed with breast cancer," said Igielski.
The relay will begin the evening of June 17, and it offers something fun for everyone.
To raise money for the relay, teams hold fund-raisers, like bake sales, car washes or sell whatever they dream up, ahead of time. One year, a team sold commemorative candles that were lit and then floated on one of the small lakes at Green Valley Park.
According to Igielski, the manner of raising funds stems from the creativity of the volunteers. The goal is to raise at least $100 per person on each team.
And then, after the money is raised, the real exercise begins.
At least one member of each team will take turns walking around the track at Payson High School from the start to the finish of the all-night celebration of life.
Luminaries will be available to purchase and decorate in honor of a loved one. The night of the relay they will be placed around the track and lit in a special ceremony.
The success of the American Cancer Society is based on the commitment of its volunteers' involvement to raise awareness and raise money to fund research.
ACS is the largest source of not-for-profit cancer research funds in the world. Researchers have increased the overall five-year cancer survivor rate from 25 percent in the 1940s to 62 percent where it is today.
Reach for Recovery pairs a survivor with a recently diagnosed patient. Aggie Nelson is the contact person at (800) ACS-2345.
The American Cancer Society hopes to bring three more support systems to cancer patients in the Rim country. The I Can Cope program, the Look Good, Feel Better program and Road to Recovery would help provide transportation for patients to medical appointments. More volunteers are needed.
Igielski wants to start building teams now and recruiting volunteers for the cause she feels is so important. If you have hope that one day there will be a cure for cancer, and you want to have fun while making a difference, you are encouraged to attend the first organizational meeting for the Relay for Life at 3:45 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 3 at Frontier Elementary School or contact Igielski at (928) 468-6521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the relay, call (800) ACS-2345 or visit the cancer society's website: www.cancer.org.