Thursday, May 3, 2012

Survivors, PLU community rally to Relay

By Alison Haywood, Copy Editor

$23,882. That’s how much Pacific Lutheran’s Relay for Life participants raised for the American Cancer Society in 2012. Of that, participants raised approximately $2,000 during the 18-hour annual Relay for Life event on PLU’s track Friday and Saturday.

Roughly 300 Community members and Pacific Lutheran students alike weathered the wind and rain at the athletic track and field 6 p.m. Friday  for the opening ceremony. The annual event to fight cancer drew survivors, caretakers and people with friends and family whose lives had been touched by cancer.

Relay for Life helps communities across the globe celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight the disease, according to relayforlife.org.

Participants sign up to walk as individuals or in teams through the night to raise money and symbolize the exhausting effects of cancer on patients and patients’ caretakers.

Participants can make a single donation or donate a certain amount per lap.

Junior Stephanie Noise pledged to donate 50 cents per lap. She said it is important to participate, even when those participating cannot make donations, because events such as these more effectively raise awareness and motivate people to support a cause than anonymous donations.

Co-chair seniors Melannie Deane and Johanna Muller also pushed the importance of participation, with or without donating.

“It’s still showing support. We work all year to raise money, but ultimately to raise awareness and the knowledge of it [cancer research],” Deane said. “I mean, money isn’t everything.”

Muller said Relay for Life is a good support group as well.

Deane and Muller had been planning this year’s Relay since August and formed the committee in September. President Loren Anderson and his wife, MaryAnn, were honorary chairs of the committee.

This year’s teams included nearly all of the PLU residence halls, the swim team, the running club, the nursing club, RHA, ASPLU, some academic departments and the Bethel Junior High Bulldogs.

At the opening ceremony, cancer survivors, marked by  purple T-shirts, were given wizard hats and wands to commemorate their victory against the disease.

Umbrellas in hand, the survivors walked the first lap around the track to kick off the event. As they looped back around to the purple-and-white balloon archway, the rest of the crowd filtered onto the track. The race for the cure had begun.

Relay for Life began and ended on a high note to commemorate the positive attitudes of caretakers and patients beginning and winning the fight with cancer.

The DJ played such uplifting songs as “Don’t Stop Believing” and began and ended with Rusted Root’s “Send Me (On My Way).” The theme this year was “Relay’s Got Rhythm.”

The event took on a more somber note with the Luminaria Ceremony at 10 p.m. Earlier in the day, participants decorated paper bags, or luminaria, with names of loved ones and anti-cancer slogans. They filled the paper bags with candles and lined them up around the track.

A participant read a poem. University Pastor Nancy Connor led a prayer. Kayli Felbinger played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes and a committee member talked about her experience with cancer. A lap of silence followed.

“Luminaria is a time to sort of reflect on people who have had cancer, people who are battling cancer, who we’ve lost to cancer,” co-chair of the Luminaria committee senior Amy Jones said.

The upbeat soundtrack was replaced by performances by PLU’s student a cappella groups HERmonic and PLUtonic.

Various activities broke up the monotony of the walk at night such as Frisbee, a three-legged race and water pong. Students huddled around small campfires when they needed a rest from walking.

Participants who walked all night — mostly Lutes — caught snatches of sleep in tents set up earlier in the day.

At Relay’s closing ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, Deane encouraged the remaining 60 or so students to think about the exhaustion they felt after walking all night and to be reminded of the exhausting effects of cancer on victims, family and friends.

President Anderson gave a speech thanking participants for their support and expressing optimism at research finding a cure. “Someday, we won’t need a Relay for Life anymore,” Anderson said.

Senior Alexis Briggs also spoke, expressing gratitude to those who participated even though they hadn’t personally been affected by cancer.

“Cancer is not just a disease,” Briggs said. “It’s a destroyer of families, a thief of time.”