Accentuate the positive
Seventh-annual Relay for Life emphasizes hope
One of the major themes of this year's Relay for Life was spelled out for participants -- literally. As the sun sunk behind Laws Field on Friday night, volunteers on the football field lit luminaria that spelled out the simple message "hope."
It was a message reinforced throughout the 12-hour event, which began Friday evening and ended Saturday morning. The local Relay, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, also serves to honor those who have died from and those who are surviving cancer.
During the luminaria ceremony cancer survivor Karen Boyer told participants that cancer was the antithesis of hope.
"Cancer is the absence of hope, the stealer of dreams," said Boyer, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996, six months after her father died of the disease.
"(Before that) I had hope," she said. "I had a future."
Fellow cancer survivor Susan Steel, who also spoke at the ceremony, said cancer was a disease that made people think, "It won't happen to me." Steel said that's what she thought as a teenager, spending a lot of time in the sun.
"I never had a thought as to what it might be doing to my skin," she said.
Steel was diagnosed with skin cancer in her 20s and since then has battled or been threatened with cancer several times.
"Each time I get the phone call, it's easier, because I know I've been through it before," Steel said.
Having cancer taught Steel both strength and compassion, and Boyer said the disease gave her insight into relating to cancer patients.
"Don't stay away because you don't know what to say or are afraid," Boyer said. "Ask, 'How are you right now?'"
Before the women spoke, volunteers lit the luminaria spelling out "hope" while emcee Rod Moyer read a poem about the word so central to the Relay. Providing other tangible evidence of hope were the cancer survivors who were recognized earlier in the evening with both a dinner and a special survivor lap of the relay.
As volunteer Marilyn Laws Porter introduced the survivors before their lap, she made special mention of survivor Glenna Orwig, who the year before came out on the track in a wheelchair. This year, Orwig walked.
Porter celebrated the success of the Relay's youngest survivors -- the children with cancer -- and offered a moment to remember those who had died since last year's event.
"No one's irreplaceable," Porter said. "But it's a short list, guys."
In his address, Mayor Ron Conner also emphasized the important role survivors played in the event.
"There are some special people in my life who sit under that tent," he said.
To Conner, the Relay represents the gumption of the Eudora community to come together and get something done. It was a time of both reflection and fun, he said.
"It takes both ends of that emotional scale to make an event like that not only run but make it succeed," he said.
This year's event, the seventh in Eudora, marked a turning point of sorts in that many of the volunteers who had nurtured the fund-raiser since its inception had stepped back to take smaller roles in the Relay. Eric Strimple and Deb Campbell stepped in.
"When we said we didn't think there'd be another Relay, Eric called and said, 'Deb and I can do it,'" Porter said.
The community's commitment to the Relay was something emcee Moyer said was often difficult to articulate to outsiders.
"You look at them and realize they don't get it," Moyer said. "And how do you explain it -- why people Relay?
"You can feel it at 3 a.m. at a Relay."