Relay for Life Ann Arbor unites cancer survivors and more this weekend
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Hundreds of people will be walking through the night tonight for the sake of educating, treating and supporting people with cancer. The 8th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Ann Arbor kicked off at 10 a.m. today at Washtenaw Community College Park and will last for 24 hours.
Each of the more than 35 teams will try to keep at least one team member on the track at all times. The fundraising goal at this year's Relay is $140,000, up from $136,000 raised at the Ann Arbor event last year.
It was last year's Relay that inspired Mary Lou Greenfield to want to be the captain of a team this time around.
"I went last year for my friend Joan Caldwell, a breast cancer survivor who walked in the Survivor's Lap," said Greenfield. "Joan died last September, and our team, Kindred Spirits, formed in her memory and honor."
There are 30 members of the Kindred Spirits team including Joan's husband, Alan Caldwell, along with five cancer survivors.
Juanita Gee started participating in the Relay for Life when a friend was diagnosed with cancer nine years ago. Then in 2008, Gee herself was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
"I underwent surgery, a year of chemo and seven weeks of radiation," said Gee. "It was one of the greatest years of my life. As many who have gone down this same road know, it changes you as a person — mind, body and soul."
In October 2010, it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to Gee's ribs and vertebrae. Her doctor told her it was terminal.
"I had a 4-year-old daughter at home who needed me and told my doctor that I would fight to live," said Gee.
Now she undergoes infusions every two weeks, and scans have shown that the cancer has not spread. Her daughter Alexis, now 6, is the co-captain of the team named "We Juana Cure" for which Juanita Gee is walking today.
Jim Dolan, a survivor of colon cancer, named his team "Got T.P.?" for reasons related to the type of cancer he beat back in 2004. He and his wife Mary Ellen are the co-captains.
"This is my way to give back to the community and raise money for the cause," said Dolan, whose daughters, son-in-law and grandchildren also participate.
The Relay is also a family activity for Julie Lubec-Hofer, promotions chair for the Relay for Life of Ann Arbor. Lubek-Hofer lost her mother to pancreatic cancer eight years ago.
"She supported the American Cancer Society, and now my husband, kids and I relay to honor my mother's memory," said Lubeck-Hofer.
According to Alex Garnepudi, a local community representative for the American Cancer Society, some of the $15 million awarded to the University of Michigan this year to fund cancer research comes from the Ann Arbor Relay for Life event.
"In Washtenaw County, an estimated 1,600 new cancer cases will be diagnosed and nearly 470 people will die from cancer this year," said Garnepudi.
He says the most common cancer types in Washtenaw County are prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancers, which are also the most common types of cancer in Michigan and the U.S.
"Relay is a 24-hour span that enables people from all different backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences to unite around a common cause that affects all of us," said Garnepudi.
Today's Relay activities include music and games, a fight back ceremony at 2 p.m., where personal commitments are made-from quitting smoking to getting a screening test-in the fight against cancer. At 9:30 p.m. a luminaria ceremony will take place. Candles in luminaria bags with the name of someone who has battled cancer line the track.
Greenfield says that she was quite moved at last year's luminaria ceremony when she realized that the Relay for Life is for both survivors of cancer and those who lost their lives to it.
Greenfield recalled, "Joan (Caldwell) said to me in the last months of her life 'Keep doing what you're doing and never give up.' That's an important part of our team's motivation."