Walkers find hope at cancer relay
Basehor-Linwood student among relay participants
There was an all-night party at the David Jaynes Field at Bonner Springs High School on Friday night.
Well, maybe not exactly a party, but it looked and sounded like one at times, even though its main purpose was practical and charitable.
The fourth annual Kaw Valley Relay For Life, a benefit event for the American Cancer Society, attracted 38 teams and raised a record $119,316.
The relay featured fun and games for the adults, as well as children, that included a DJ from Mix 93.3, and inflated romper rooms for children to jump around in. Many teams had their own booths, offering items or services in exchange for donations.
The Pink Zebras Shopping For a Cure Team offered relay attendees the chance to fashion unique footwear with multicolored strips of felt to tie and weave around ordinary flip-flops.
Deanna Clouse, the team's captain, said the relay was a good time.
"It's not hard. We enjoy walking and talking," she said, adding that team members rested "whenever we felt like it."
Team's a tribute
Charlie's Angels was a team composed of members of five families who attend Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Shawnee. Lisa Donart, the team's captain, said the name was a tribute to Charlie Swedo, who had participated in previous Relays and died of cancer about a month ago.
"I hope someday the money we raise will find a cure," Donart said. "Too many people don't win the battle."
In addition to raising money to find a cure for cancer -- teams and individuals raise money by soliciting donations -- the event serves less quantifiable ends.
Jeff Harrington, a survivor of dermatofibrotosis, said while walking the track, "it's surprising how emotional it is. You get a lot off strength from people here."
Harrington said that when he first was diagnosed with cancer, one of his friends revealed that he'd had cancer.
"That changed everything," Harrington said. "I've been a survivor so long I hope I give some to others," he said.
If Harrington's story is any indication, Friday night's event must have changed the outlooks of many people, as the event kicked off with a walk around the track of about 100 cancer survivors, all wearing purple and white T-shirts bearing the relay's logo and its sponsors on the back.
The crowd in the bleachers cheered the survivors as they walked by, led by three people carrying a banner that read: "I AM A SURVIVOR!"
Soon the relay itself started, with most members of most teams apparently taking part in at least the first lap, to the strains of the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited."
There is no athletic competition involved in the relay, but each team was to keep a member on the track throughout the night.
Several high school and middle-school boys, all in drag of varying degrees of camp and credibility, strutted around the track with purses to solicit donations from attendees. The one who raised the most was to be crowned Queen of the Relay.
Marisa Thornton, a student at Basehor-Linwood Middle School, lost her mother to lymphoma on May 6. Marisa was at Friday's relay as part of Tina's Tinkerbells, a team of Girl Scouts in Troop 3217, who got their name from Marisa's mother, Tina Thornton.
Marisa didn't have an easy answer to the question of what she got out of the Relay, but quickly agreed with her teammate's suggestion that "it shows I have people who care."
The team walked with a quilt that featured silkscreen photos of her mother and the team members. At their booth on the trackside they offered hair weaves and face-painting for a donation.
At 9 p.m., several dozen relay participants released ballons with messages for loved ones lost to cancer.
The highlight of the night for many, if not most, relay participants is the Luminaria Ceremony. Several hundred small candles inside paper bags were decorated with the names and pictures of cancer victims and then set up inside the track. The field lights are turned off, and the candles glow.
On the east-facing bleachers several more candle bags were lighted, spelling the word "hope."
At the beginning of the ceremony the Rev. Mick Mulvaney of Corpus Christi Catholic Church gave a long sermon, leading the crowd into the Lord's Prayer, before Linda Long, co-chair of this year's relay and a recent cancer survivor herself, spoke.
Long described the difficulties she faced when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She compared her ordeal to the trip Monarch butterflies make from Maine to Mexico each year, and said she owed her life to having a mammogram each year, starting early enough that her doctor had a baseline to compare later ones to.
"Mammograms save lives," Long said.
After Long's speech she led the crowd in singing "Strength for the Journey," a song she said sustained her through her trials.
After that, the list of all the names to whom luminaries were dedicated was read.
Next came a fireworks display by Pro Fireworks Unlimited.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday to 5:30 a.m. Saturday, walkers and non-walkers helped keep each other going with assorted amusements, including laps playing games called Ships and Sailors, Crazy Laps, Cheese Puff Beard, Feed Your Partner, Poker Lap, Birdie on a Perch, Alligator Wrestling, Line Dancing, Limbo, Trivia Suitcase Relay, Boxers or Briefs, Trivia, tug of war, and a dodgeball tournament.
At 6:55 a.m. Saturday, the final lap was begun before everyone packed up and went home.