Rain failed to dampen the spirits of Relay for Life of Barton County participants during an abbreviated cancer-fighting event chased indoors by pending Thunderstorms Friday night.
It was, after all, the relay’s 20th anniversary. Not even the threat of bad weather could deter the folks determined to gather and remember those lost to cancer and celebrate those who have survived it.
“In the big picture of life,” this is no big deal,” relay Chairperson Kandi Wolf said in her opening remarks. “I want to thank the committee, team captains and everyone who came together and moved the event quickly.”
She spoke from the stage of the Great Bend City Auditorium after an 11th-hour decision to move to the facility. It was originally set to take place on the Barton County Courthouse Square but was relocated due to gloomy forecasts.
Sure, the cavernous auditorium was stuffy and large fans helped circulate the air, but everyone made do: Instead of luminaries weighted down with sand and illuminated by candles, the white bags sat on the gym floor or were taped to the walls and glowed with light from small LED bulbs; and, instead of walking around the sidewalk, those there walked their laps around the floor.
In the middle were children playing with beach balls and other inflated toys. The theme was Beach Party, and the teams weren’t going to let being cramped up inside cramp their style.
But, even with the party atmosphere, the serious undertones of a Relay for Life surfaced many times during the evening.
“I made it through,” said Debbie Finn, a retired nurse, patient advocate and breast cancer survivor. “Cancer affects the whole family.”
Finn suffered through two bouts with the disease in the 1990s, but went on and formed a breast cancer support group and survived to be with her family. “There is life after cancer,” she said as her husband and caregiver Calvin embraced her on stage.
“I never want to forget where I started with this disease,” she said. “But, I don’t let it rule me.”
Similar feelings were echoed by Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir, who was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in December. “When you get the diagnosis that you have cancer, you feel like you’ve been given a death sentence,” he said.
But, one soon learns a lot about themselves. They also learn about what is important, like family and friends.
And, despite what the army of doctors tell you, “it’s up to you to fight the disease,” he said. It is up to the individual to determine how they respond.
According to information presented by Great Bend Mayor Mike Allison in the annual Barton County mayoral relay proclamation, in one week in Kansas, 200 residents are diagnosed with cancer and 100 die from it. The statement went on to note that the relay was a major part of the fight against the illness.
The Barton County relay was started in 1995 and has since raised over $1 million. It continually ranks among the top-grossing relays for events its size nationwide.
At the end of the relay early Saturday morning, it was announced that the top male fundraiser was Brian Strecker with $1,700 and the top female fundraiser was Connie Lowe with $3,200. The top three teams were Zimmerman Family and Friends with over $6,000, Great Bend Regional Hospital with over $7,000 and Cuna Mutual Retirement Solutions with over $14,000.
As of Saturday morning, the relay had raised $78,000. But, the fundraising continues.
It was also announced that Wolf’s Co-chair Mariann Shook will be the chairperson for the 2016 and 2017 relays, with Jenny Boyer serving as her co-chair.