Event honors those battling cancer and those who have lost their lives to the disease

By Gus Bode

Factoid:If you have any questions or are looking for the assistance of a certain program or service, call the area office at (618)-998-9898 or the national hotline at 1-800-ACS-2345. Their website is www.cancer.org

More than a thousand glowing luminaries honored cancer survivors, as well as those who lost the battle to cancer, Friday night until Saturday morning while participants walked for the 12th Annual Relay for Life.

“Tonight is all about people coming out and celebrating their fund raising efforts,” said Fran Miley, staff partner for the Jackson County Relay for Life. “It’s a celebration for our cancer survivors and local community.”


Relay for Life raises money for research and programs sponsored by the American Cancer Society. This is the first year that Jackson County will host two Relay for Life events, one in Carbondale and the other in Murphysboro. The Relay in Murphysboro is May 21 and 22 at Murphysboro High School.

“The reason we’ve done that is because we’re outreaching to other communities and trying to interact with other survivors who maybe haven’t been involved before,” Miley said. “With an additional site, we’re able to reach more people with our life saving message.”

The event began at 6 p.m. Friday at McAndrew Stadium with an opening ceremony. There was a presentation of colors, singing of the National Anthem by Tiffany Kesler and prayer by the Rev. John Annable. A survivor lap, caregiver lap and parade of teams around the track followed.

“I’ve always contributed and helped, but this is the first year I’ve walked,” said Vivienne Hertz, a three-year breast cancer survivor from Carbondale. “I didn’t think I could make it all those other years, but this year I know I could make it.”

Relay is a chance for people to come and honor those who have struggled with the disease, beat it, or to remember those who have lost the battle, Miley said. The area’s survivors are recognized during the victory lap, where survivors of all ages carry stars bearing their names and the length of their battle with cancer as they proudly walk their lap around the track.

“It was a thrill,” Hertz said. “One thing I didn’t know was that people would clap. I had no idea that they did that; it brought tears to my eyes.”

Hertz was touched by the number of participants in the event, and she said she feels Relay is important because it raises money to support research in the area.


“My mother died when I was 16. She had the type of cancer I had,” she said. “I think one of the things this means to me is the advances in medical research and the fact that I am alive and I’m a good deal older than she was when she passed away.”

The teams that walked and participated in Relay ranged from SIUC students and faculty to members of the community. Many of the teams went along with the theme of Hollywood by dressing up in costumes or decorating their campsites, which were used to house participants in need of rest.

Miles Bardell, a sophomore from Freeport studying aviation technology, was the team captain for the Beta Theta Pi team, which went along with the Hollywood theme by portraying the movie “Biker Boyz” and placing motorcycles in front of its tent.

“It seems like a good way to help out the community,” Bardell said.

The event offered food, games and entertainment throughout the evening. There were hip-hop dance performances by the Susan Barnes Dance Studio, singing by the Carbondale chapter of the Little Egypt Barbershop Chorus and several different games to keep participants occupied throughout the evening.

“Of course, we’ve got great activities set up and lots of great food,” Miley said. “We’ve got a cardboard car race much like the cardboard boat regatta. It’s a ‘Road to Recovery’ cardboard car race.”

Road to Recovery is a volunteer-based transportation program that is a big focus of this particular relay, Miley said.

“One of the number one reasons cancer patients don’t go to treatment is they do not have transportation,” Miley said. “Of course, we don’t ever want that to happen, so we have a volunteer based group of people that will provide rides to cancer patients to and from their treatment.”

Participants in the event are encouraged to stay the night and join other teams in walking around the track.

“You will see people every hour on the hour between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. walking the track and each step takes us closer to a cure,” Miley said.

The team that raised the most, Saluki Walkers Always Triumph (over cancer) or SWAT, works year-round to fund raise specifically for the event. The 15-member team raised a total of $20,283 through hosting a mystery dinner, selling Avon products and holding a Pizza Hut fund-raiser, said Pansy Jones, the team captain.

“Last year, we were the first team in Illinois to raise $30,000 in one year,” said Jones, a 12-year cancer survivor from Murphysboro.

She was first asked to form a team from SIUC nine years ago, when the Jackson County Relay was just getting started. Since then, her team of either employees or retirees from SIUC has raised over $100,000.

“We all have some contact with cancer, either with our families, our friends or personally,” Jones said. “So fund raising is not that difficult because people want to eradicate cancer altogether, and we’re making progress.”

Overall, the Jackson County committee has a goal of $150,000 between its two Relay for Life events. Its organizers are hoping to top last year’s total of $122,000. The event Friday and Saturday helped to raise more than $70,000.

“But of course, there is more going on here than just the money,” Miley said.

“It truly is about the people’s experiences, focusing on the survivors and celebrating that. When you come out here and participate in Relay, you really feel like you are fighting back against this disease and you are making a difference, and that gives hope to a lot of people.”

The money raised for Relay for Life has been used to fund research locally at SIU, said Kara Dunkel, the event co-chair from Makanda.

“All this money that we’re making in donations from the community are actually coming right back to us,” Dunkel said. “It’s not necessarily direct, but it bounces right back to the community wherever you’re at.”

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 1,372,910 new cancer cases in 2005 and 570,280 deaths.

“It’s a very frightening disease,” Jones said. “It makes you appreciate everything around you and every birthday.”

Reporter Laura Teegarden can be reached at [email protected]