Many affected by cancer in the community, whether still fighting, believing or in need of a little extra hope, are preparing to participate in Relay For Life of Ellis County, set to take place from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Relay For Life first started in 1985 by Dr. Gordy Klatt, who worked with cancer patients and grew tired of witnessing the suffering while seeing no advances due to lack of research, according to Kim Peach, American Cancer Society community manager.
“He decided he was going to take a walk himself, and he did the first walk for 24 hours,” Peach said. “After that, people started brainstorming and figuring out ways to make the idea grow.”
Years later, the ceremony has grown into a worldwide support system and fundraiser.
“Currently, there are about 69 events in the state of Kansas, and they take place all over,” Peach said. “We are the largest not-for-profit research for cancer in the U.S.”
Chairperson Diana Staley said Relay For Life gives everyone in the community a chance to come together, remember those they have lost and honor the loved ones who are still living for them.
Staley, who works at Dreiling Schmidt Cancer Institute as a nurse practitioner, said the event has a special place in her heart.
“The reason it’s important to me is because I work at the cancer center, and I see the effects of it every day,” she said. “It’s very personal to me.”
An opening ceremony consisting of a welcome message from FHSU President Mirta Martin and survivor and caregiver laps will kick off Saturday’s event.
“For us, this is very important because the survivor lap is a way to get out on the track and show newly diagnosed individuals that survival is possible,” Peach said.
The caregiver lap also is emotional for those involved.
“We want caregivers to know we’re here to support them,” Peach said. “It’s a good way for survivors to show them appreciation, too.”
A team lap, Fight Back Ceremony and basket auction also can be expected, followed by a luminaria ceremony and guest speakers.
For the first time, the event will take place in FHSU’s Gross Memorial Coliseum, and partnering with FHSU is something Relay For Life orchestrators are thrilled about.
“President Martin was overwhelmingly acceptive to the idea,” Peach said. “She is excited to get the young people involved.”
Another bonus is hosting the event indoors.
“We’ve never had an indoor venue,” Staley said.
Relay For Life orchestrators hope to provide inspiration and healing, while spreading the world about the event and sparking interest in people considering to help with next year’s, Peach said.
“We need to keep on going until it’s not as scary to hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’ ” she said. “We need to inspire people, especially the newly diagnosed, and spread hope.”