Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Katlyn Campbell
As the annual Relay For Life event approaches in Christian County, Event Chair Lisa Sims remains just as busy as she was when she started planning for the event.
This year’s Relay For Life event begins at 6 p.m. June 27 and runs through 6 p.m. the following day at Taylorville High School, 315 W. Springfield Rd, Taylorville. The theme is “There’s No Place Like HOPE,” a play on The Wizard of Oz.
Sims’ involvement with cancer fundraising can be traced back to when she was a young girl. Having her grandmother die from breast cancer sparked her interest in fundraising for cancer-awareness organizations. But only a few years ago Sims saw the full affect cancer has had on her friends, co-workers, and family members.
“This is a disease that is not biased, not prejudiced, chooses all ages, races, sexes. It does not care if you are healthy or not. It does not care if you are single or married. It does not care that your life is busy.”
One thing Sims loves about American Cancer Society fundraising is that 94 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to the cause and not to anyone’s profit. The money raised is put towards cancer research but it is also used to serve cancer survivors of Christian County; the Road to Recovery Program, in which volunteers drive cancer survivors to and from treatments; Look Good, Feel Better, a beauty program for breast cancer survivors, and more.
The Relay For Life 12-hour event includes the survivor dinner, opening ceremony, survivor lap, luminaria ceremony, and closing ceremony. There will also be a full schedule of quirky events to enjoy throughout the night.
There are also early events for young people to participate in, including face painting, games, and balloon art.
“I absolutely love the craziness that ensues late into the night and early into the morning,” Sims said. “Crazy-themed laps, super fun activities, hysterical costumes and dances, midnight sugar parties — it is such a fun night for all ages.”
Relay For Life isn’t just for teams, either: anybody can sign up to participate.
“Every year we are given 365 days… giving one-half of just one day can save lives,” Sims said.
Relay For Life isn’t just about people who have cancer coming together to support one another. The event is about a whole community. Whether it’s volunteering as someone who has experienced cancer first-hand, or someone who is merely aware of the effects of cancer, the event symbolizes the unity between people in their fight for less cancer and more birthdays.
Cancer survivor Jennifer Bertoldo plans on attending this year’s Relay For Life event as a co-captain of team Bench Dips. Bertoldo was diagnosed with cancer in November 2012, and since then has continued participating in Relay For Life events.
“I now have a deeper understanding of what it is like to have cancer,” Bertoldo said. “Previously I was reaching out to survivors, but felt I could not truly understand what it was like to be in their position. Now, I have that personal insight and experience, which I believe will help me to be more effective in supporting other survivors and caregivers.”
Bertoldo enjoys attending Relay For Life because she supports those who have cancer and those who have lost a loved one to cancer. Nobody is alone at these events; the survivor lap consists of lots of tear, hugs, and clapping. The sense of community can truly be felt at Relay For Life as people meet one another for the first time but later grow to be more than friends: a Relay family.
“We are never guaranteed tomorrow, so make today count!” Bertoldo said.
Shauna Becker, two-time breast cancer survivor, will also be attending this years’ Relay For Life on team Bench Dips. “We are going to Muscle Out Cancer.”
A common theme for the Relay For Life events is letting people know they are not alone, and Becker testifies to this. “I have made awesome friends by attending and hearing other stories makes you realize that you are not in this alone,” she said.
One thing Becker most enjoys about the event is the themed laps, and the enthusiasm the people have.
Although faced with the struggles of cancer, Becker doesn’t take her life for granted, “I have had God, family, and friends support me on this journey and I have always said: Good comes from bad.”
Not only has Becker been attending Relay For Life for years, but she also spoke at the event two years ago to share her story. From the beginning when she was diagnosed she was determined to fight, “I need to be here for my family and I am going to fight it, no matter what it takes.”
Having cancer is full of ups and downs, “I was on a ride that changed my life forever,” but Becker continued to fight as “I knew I had to stay positive because my concern wasn’t with me it was with my son, who was experiencing something far worse than me, he was at battle overseas, while I was at battle in the United States.”
Through Becker’s battle with breast cancer she still maintains a positive outlook on her experience, “I had a shirt made that says, ‘these are fake, because my real ones tried to kill me’.”
Another strong lady who will be attending the Relay For Life events this year is Mary Linda Graham. She’s participating on team Tom’s Angels in memory of her husband, who passed away from pancreatic cancer. She’ll be spending the Relay with her daughter and her family as well as her daughter’s friends and some of the people her husband, Tom, worked with.
Graham walks “first and foremost for my husband and that there will someday be a cure so I don’t have to worry about the rest of my family and friends dying from this terrible disease.” But she will also be attending the Relay in honor of her father who died of metastatic prostate cancer and her mom who is a breast cancer survivor.
The Relay For Life events have made Graham more passionate overall. Graham and her daughter are in charge of the luminaria ceremony, and they try to improve it every year. They’ve made it easier to find the bags by putting them in alphabetical order for those who have pre-ordered them.
Graham keeps coming back to walk because: “I have made friends and gotten to know people that I have known through the years in a different and richer way.”
The Relay For Life events create bonds between people that are unbreakable. Graham loves this event so much that this year she’ll be walking her 13th event.
Relay For Life has changed these four women in ways that other residents of Christian County need to also embrace and experience. Not only are friends made and bonds strengthened: but, raising money for the fight against cancer trumps all. With the money raised (so far $38,134.56), the community helps to acknowledge a change that needs attention.
“You see people of all ages joining together, hugging, laughing, crying, sharing stories, sharing sorrows, it is hands down the most beautiful experience I have ever had the honor of joining,” Sims said.