By Michaela Gibson Morris
Across North Mississippi, people are lighting candles against the darkness of cancer.
Brittany Trimble and her co-workers at the Gap will celebrate and remember with the other teams at the Lee County Relay for Life at Fairpark on May 30. Like Relay for Life events across the region, teams raise money to further the work of the American Cancer Society.
“It’s a way for the community to come together for a cause,” said Trimble, who with her Gap co-workers lost a colleague to cancer.
The town of Baldwyn will continue its tradition of rallying around cancer survivors at its May 30 Relay for Life. Survivors in Baldwyn open the night with a dinner, then have a parade to Latimer Park where the Relay for Life is held.
“The night is really for them,” said Shelaine Pennington, who serves as the Relay chairwoman.
That’s the magic of Relay for Life events that are hosted across Mississippi and the country. Teams of co-workers, friends and neighbors work throughout the year to raise money for the American Cancer Society. They come together with their communities to celebrate their work.
“It brings people from all walks of life together with the common goal of eliminating cancer,” said Paige Kelly, Relay for Life specialist with the American Cancer Society. “Relay for Life is crucial to the American Cancer Society’s mission of finding a cure for cancer.”
Each Relay is a little different because they are planned locally, but they all light up the night during the moving luminary ceremony to honor cancer survivors and remember those who have lost the battle.
Weather permitting, Baldwyn adds sky lanterns to its luminary ceremony. This year, they are giving cancer survivors a chance to honor their caregivers, too.
“It’s just a very emotional part of Relay,” Pennington said.
Where the money goes
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s top fundraising event, Kelly said. It really harnesses the efforts of legions of volunteers across the state and the country.
The Gap team takes advantage of the company’s corporate policy that not only matches the money they raise, but donates for every volunteer hour its employees give. The store employees pick what local charity events they want to get involved with.
“Relay for Life is really near and dear to our heart,” said Julia Viator, general manager.
Little places can make a big impact through the Relay for Life.
Over the past six years, Baldwyn – population 3,000 – has raised more than $250,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“It’s the one thing our community really comes together for,” Pennington said.
The money powers a continuum of programs that focus on prevention, research, assistance during treatment and empowering cancer survivors.
Annually, the American Cancer Society puts more than $130 million into research, looking for ways to treat cancer, find it earlier and prevent it in the first place.
“It is the world’s largest private source of cancer research funds,” Kelly said.
It serves as a reliable source of information on prevention, treatment and resources through its cancer.org website and hotline (800) 227-2345. Any cancer survivor or caregiver can find the answers to questions about symptoms, treatment side effects, resources and more.
“Twenty-four-seven, there’s somebody there,” Kelly said. “They can talk to someone, get accurate information, whatever they need.”
Work is currently underway in Jackson to built a Hope Lodge – where cancer patients can stay when they need treatment away from home.
In Northeast Mississippi, the American Cancer Society helps provide support groups for survivors, including the I Can Cope and prostate cancer support groups.
Special bras and wigs are available free of charge for breast cancer survivors.
The Look Good, Feel Better program connects cancer survivors with trained cosmetologists for advice on hair and make up during treatment.
Join the fun
You don’t have to be part of a team to enjoy Relay for Life. The events are free and open to the community.
“We invite everyone to come and bring their lawn chair,” Pennington said.
The Lee County Relay at Fairpark will feature three bands and a DJ.
This year, the Baldwyn Relay for Life on May 31 is channeling the spirit of Bob Hope’s annual Christmas variety shows with Danny Horton taking on the emcee role.