Cancer survivors and caregivers celebrated hope and raised money for the American Cancer Society on Friday on the annual Relay for Life of Barton County.
The event was moved from Veterans Park to the GBHS Panther Activity Center to deal with the standing water and mosquitoes at the park.
After a survivors’ dinner, the opening ceremony got underway at 6 p.m.
“We want to light up the night!” Event Lead Jenny Boyer said. “We are here getting ready to walk the night.” The Relay has some team members on the floor and walking laps until the end, starting with the survivors’ lap. Dozens of cancer survivors, all wearing purple T-shirts, led the way and then others followed. The walking symbolizes the journey of a cancer patient, Boyer said. “We want to be there from the very first step of a cancer patient’s path.” There was also entertainment and more fun ways to raise money. That money provides programs and patient services, and helps fund ACS research. “That’s why we relay,” she said.
“We have made an impact against cancer,” Boyer continued. ACS notes that its research and action — such as educating people about early detection — has contributed to a 26 percent decrease in the overall U.S. cancer death rate since 1991. That translates to nearly 2.4 million cancer deaths avoided during that time.
During the opening ceremony, the cancer survivors stood to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” with the American Legion Riders Post 180 serving as color guard. Then each survivor told the audience how many years he or she has been a survivor. The times ranged from months to years — in some cases more than 20 years. Others are undergoing treatment right now.
“The mission of the American Cancer Society is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer,” said Kim Peach, a community manager for the American Cancer Society. “You’re a survivor from the moment you’re told you have cancer.”
Pat Jones from Great Bend was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in January. She has attended Relay for Life for more than 20 years with her sister Connie Jacobs from Hays, who was diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 11, 2011. So, while Jones is a regular on a Relay team sponsored by the Great Bend Tribune, this was her first year to wear the purple survivor shirt and walk in the survivors’ lap.
Jones said she’s a former smoker but hadn’t smoked for 18 years.
“Luckily, the cancer was caught early,” she said. “I credit Dr. (Robin) Durett with that.”
For fundraisers, participants held drawings for prizes or sold Relay swag. The teams were named after international cities, following this year’s theme, “City Lights,” and some members had fun dressing the part — from a Honolulu team wearing grass skirts to the New York City group, also known as the Relay Readers, whose team leader, Patty Collins, was dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Relay participants could visit each city to get their passports stamped and then use the passports to enter a drawing for gift baskets.
During the evening, JP Postlethwaite, director of the American Legion Riders Post, accepted a plaque as that group won the Community Engagement Award for 2019.
There was also entertainment from Danceography dance school in Great Bend.
Susan Stricker from the ACS spoke briefly about where the money goes. “One place is Hope Lodge,” she said, describing how the ACS helps cancer patients and their caregivers by providing a free home away from home in the Kansas City area. “You money stays in the state of Kansas,” she added.
The ACS reports 79% of its resources are allocated to program services that include cancer research, patient support, prevention information and education, and detection and treatment.