Conquering cancer via the Relay for Life

Think about the strongest people you know. Think about what it takes to endure pain and uncertainty. Think about those who’ve fought and survived, determined then to help others through their times of illness and misfortune. Think about people like that and you’ll picture somebody like my friend Pat.
I’ll never forget the day Pat called and said, “Can you come over. Right now.” I dropped everything and went, only to hear the awful news — she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.
I quickly decided that in addition to good doctors and strong faith, the best ally a cancer patient can have is a spunky, positive personality, which Pat most assuredly has. She kicked the big C in the you-know-where, but only after surgery and a long, long year of treatment.
And so today, I give Pat this small forum to beg a favor as she continues her battle —this time for others.
“As a 4-year cancer survivor, I cannot begin to express my gratitude for my continuing good health,” she writes. “That's why I want to encourage communities to join with the American Cancer Society to sponsor Relay for Life, the project I've chosen to support so that I can repay in some small measure for the care I received. This event provides hope for cancer patients. Without hope, what do we have?”
What is Relay for Life?
Relay for Life is an overnight event that unites the community against cancer. Staying overnight at Relay for Life is one small way to recognize and support the struggles of cancer patients and their families. Teams of people take turns walking or running around the track in this non-competitive event. Relay teams consist of individuals representing corporations, churches, clubs, organizations and families who pledge to raise at least $1,000. Incredibly, some teams raise as much as $10,000.
“Relay for Life provides our best opportunity for expanding fund-raising, cancer control, advocacy and volunteerism in communities throughout the nation,” explains Pat. “During Relay for Life, participants enjoy games, food, music and camaraderie.”
Pat’s pet project is the luminaria ceremony, the heart of this important event. Luminaries are white sand-filled bags with candles resting in the sand. These bags line the track, and as darkness arrives, the candles shine through the paper bags. These bags have been decorated by family, friends and others with messages in honor of those who battle cancer and in memory of those who have been lost. To walk this track and read the names on the many, many bags is a somber and beautiful experience.
What is the significance of the bags?
“The paper sack represents our thick skin — what you need when you hear a cancer diagnosis,” says Pat. “The sand offers us a firm foundation when we feel weak and falter. The candle is as solid as a rock. It’s what our caregivers, family, friends, doctors and nurses are to us. The flame is the light of hope that a cure will be found before more luminaries are lit. It’s the burning desire in each of us to extinguish cancer now.”
Luminaria are sold prior to and at the event for a minimum donation. These donations (tax deductible) help fund the American Cancer Society’s fight against this disease, including research to help find a cure.
“Remember,” Pat says, “Cancer is limited. I love the poem that reads: ‘Cancer cannot cripple love; it cannot shatter hope; it cannot corrode faith; it cannot destroy peace; it cannot kill friendship; it cannot suppress memories; it cannot silence courage; it cannot evade the soul; it cannot steal eternal life; it cannot conquer the spirit.’”
Is there a Relay for Life planned in your town? If not, find out how you can organize one by calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345. Information specialists are on call 24 hours a day. Or visit the official ACS web site at
If there IS an event already planned in your area, volunteer — good health is most definitely sacred territory.
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Editor’s Note: Beth Jacks is a columnist from Cleveland, MS. Her light look at life could qualify her as Mississippi’s answer to Erma Bombeck.