The weather was gorgeous. The numbers were vast.
And the hope was strong.
The 18th-annual Relay for Life of Pulaski County event — stretching from Friday evening into the wee hours Saturday morning — brought out a big crowd once again. With the smell of yummy food heavy in the warm June air and the sound of pep-in-your-step music leaping forth from loudspeakers at Pulaski County High School’s football field, everything was set for folks to have a good time.
“People think a cancer event would be sad, but it’s very festive,” said Brooke Whitis, community representative for the American Cancer Society (ACS). “It really is a celebration.”
Held by the ACS each year — in 21 different countries, with 4 million participants annually in the U.S. — Relay for Life is a chance for those affected by cancer, either as survivors or friends and family of those with the disease, to come together and have fun and fellowship. Those who are living with or have beaten the disease are recognized; those who have passed away are remembered, thanks to the always-unforgettable luminaria ceremony.
It’s also a fundraiser. Various teams form during the year leading up Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research, patient services, education and advocacy.
Those teams then come together at Relay for Life and get one last money-collection push in, while setting up tents and booths featuring games, food, or fanciful costumes — you might see something akin to a tiki lounge, or the jackets of the Pink Ladies from the musical “Grease.” The festivities last 12 hours, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., with activities, auctions, and music providing entertainment throughout the sleepless night. And after dark, the luminarias — bags bearing candles that provide a glimmer of hope and remembrance in the night — help provide a solemn tribute to those who have passed away due to cancer-related causes.
Though exact numbers weren’t available Saturday, Whitis observed that it was one of the most well-attended Relay for Life events the county has had. Fitting, since it’s a big year for the festivities.
Being as this is the 100th year for ACS, it’s a particularly special occasion for Relay for Life around the country, and Pulaski County presented the organization with a sweet birthday gift in the form of $137,000 total raised by 75 different teams.
“If you buy a cupcake, hot dog, or water, nobody makes a profit,” said Whitis. “Every penny goes to ACS.”
That’s even with a number of local businesses with teams, about 50 of which lined up their booths around the stadium’s track. Of course, things kick off with a survivor’s march around that same loop, signaling that cancer survivors just keep on truckin’ through life.
“We have several newly-diagnosed survivors here for the first time,” said Whitis on Friday night. “I think (the event) has given them a lot of hope and strength to get through their treatments.”
Whitis said a number of those who helped found Relay for Life in Pulaski County still participate even today, and it’s meaningful and crucial to do them proud by making Relay for Life a magical time each and every year.
“It’s about remembering those who have passed away, and fighting back as a community,” she said, “The committee, the sponsors, everyone has done a remarkable job this year. It’s just an awesome event.”