“You have cancer" – three words that can be both terrifying and life changing. “Celebrate, remember and fight back" – three things that you can do about it. Relay For Life® is the celebration of nearly 11 million cancer survivors who are alive in the United States today.
On Friday, June 10, the 4th annual Clark Relay For Life will kick off at Arthur L. Johnson High School on Westfield Avenue with the traditional Survivors Lap, where cancer survivors join together on the track to walk a lap in celebration of the extra special birthdays they have had since being diagnosed.
Clark has hosted Relay for Life each year since in 2008. As of today, 91 teams have registered for this year’s event including over 1,000 participants who have so far raised funds totaling more than $123,000.
According to the American Cancer Society, Relay began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Washington, ran and walked around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Since then, Relay has grown from a single man’s passion to fight cancer into the world’s largest movement to end the disease. Each year, more than 3.5 million people in 5,000 communities in the United States, along with additional communities in 19 other countries, gather to take part in this global phenomenon and raise much-needed funds and awareness to save lives from cancer.
Anyone can participate in Relay for Life. Friends, families, neighbors, classmates, sports teams, etc., can form their own teams. Because of the large number of participants expected, pre-registration is suggested. However, last minute participants can sign-up at the registration area on the day of the event. Most donations are collected and turned in to the American Cancer Society in the months and weeks prior to the event. Donations toward Relay for Life of Clark will be accepted prior to the day of the event online, by regular mail or at the registration area on the day of the event.
The public is encouraged to come and listen to the inspiring story of Dr. Cynara Coomer who is the Relay for Life Survivor speaker this year. Coomer is the chief of breast surgery and director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital. She is also an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Mount Sinai in New York City.
The story of Coomer's fight and triumph over cancer on Fox News caught the attention of Renee Sarnicki, survivor chairperson of the Clark Relay for Life. "Her story touched my heart and I knew she would be the perfect guest speaker for the event," said Sarnicki. "She is a doctor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and woman. Dr. Coomer is the perfect fit to tell her story about what it means to be a survivor and how the words, 'You have cancer,' changed her life for the better."
After dark, the Luminaria Ceremony begins, honoring those whose lives have been touched by cancer. This emotional ceremony includes the lighting of candles in bags of sand surrounding the track bearing the names of loved ones who are still fighting and those who have lost their battle with the disease. This silent lap around the track is especially meaningful.
Finally, the Fight Back Ceremony rallies participants to continue the fight against cancer. Acknowledging that cancer never sleeps, Relay for Life continues through the night. Participants have committed to keeping a member of their team walking or running on the track for the duration of the event. Teams set up camp for the night around the track with tents and refreshments. Entertainment and activities are scheduled throughout the night, featuring music from acoustic rock band Backyard Heroes. Team raffles, mini-fundraisers and an ACS Relay Store will be open to raise additional funds at the event. There will be games and contests for kids and adults.
"Many people in all stages of life have been affected by the dreaded disease of cancer," Clark Councilwoman Sheila Whiting (who is also a Relay For Life logistic chairwoman) told Patch. "Relay For Life is a celebration of the survivors, the memorial of loved ones lost and the hope of finding a cure and keeping our families safe from this terrible disease. In Clark, the Relay is a united community outreach, a way to come together and do something good for the better of the community and mankind."