Sharing hope: Relay for Life events connect community cancer fighters


WASHINGTON, Apr 14: County to county, Relay for Life events aim to create a wave of support for the fight against cancer.

Teams of co-workers, neighbors and friends work to raise money for the American Cancer Society and share their successes with their communities. Through the spring and early summer, 11 counties in Northeast Mississippi will come together to hope, celebrate and remember.

“It’s a community effort,” said Trudy Featherston, who serves as the Prentiss County Relay for Life chairwoman. “So many people are dedicated to doing their part to find cures for cancer and support people in cancer treatment.”

The Relay for Life teams take cancer seriously, but the events focus on fun and celebrating survivors.

“We’re not letting cancer take our joy,” said Krystin White, chairwoman for the Pontotoc County Relay for Life.

It’s not too late to join the fun. Businesses, clubs, churches and neighborhoods can come together to form a team. The entire community is welcome at Relay for Life events

Pontotoc County will hold its Relay for Life on April 21. Teams will set up around the Pontotoc Courthouse Square. In case of rain, the festivities will move to the Pontotoc County Agricenter.

This year’s festivities were planned around the “We’re Not Playing Games with Cancer” theme. Teams are organizing sports and carnival games in addition to entertainment.

“It will be lots of fun for the community,” White said. “They can enjoy a night of games and food.”
Lee County is moving its June 9 Relay for Life to HealthWorks! in Tupelo, so that rain or shine, the event will go on.

“It’s a really good location,” said Christy Stewart, chairwoman for the Lee County Relay for Life. “Last year we were completely rained out.”

This year’s theme is “Super Heroes,” and the 22 teams signed up for the event are planning to add an extra “kapow” to the event.

Prentiss County Relay for Life will take over the the fountain and boulevard at Northeast Mississippi Community College on June 16.

This year’s theme is “Carnival for Cure” and teams will bring the fair theme to life with games, activities and treats.

Although each Relay for Life event is unique to its organizers, they share common elements. Cancer survivors are the VIPs for Relay for Life event, and they lead off the festivities with a survivor lap.

“It’s like a victory lap,” White said. “Some of them have been survivors for 20 years; some of them are still in chemotherapy. They all come together.”

After dark, the luminary ceremony offers a chance to remember those who were lost to cancer and honor those still surviving. Many events have added sky lanterns or glowing balloons to the luminaries.

“When you recognize those who are fighting, those who have been lost, it’s a very emotional moment,” Featherston said.

Before the Relay for Life, teams put in hard work setting up breakfasts with princesses and super heroes, cooking dinners, hosting pageants and tournaments. Many teams have fundraising events year round. All of the hard work of the community teams adds up.

“They want to help because they’ve seen the struggle,” Stewart said.

Most county Relay for Life events raise between $50,000 and $80,000, said Paige Kelly, American Cancer Society community manager. Last year, the state of Mississippi raised just under $4 million for the Relay for Life. North Mississippi Relays for Life contributed $1.4 million.

Northeast Mississippi has some heavy hitters. Pontotoc County raised $228,000 last year and routinely is among the top 10 Relays in the country in per capita, due in large part to the strength of the Southern Motion team, which is the third largest in the country, Kelly said.

“It’s really impressive,” Kelly said.

Lee County Relay for Life has also seen impressive increases in its efforts, and is on track to raise more than $100,000 this year.

“We’re excited about the direction of Lee County,” Kelly said.

The American Cancer Society harnesses the money that comes through the Relays for Life to further cancer research and assist cancer survivors and their families.

Locally, the American Cancer Society supports support groups like Man-to-Man prostate cancer group and the I Can Cope groups, which both meet in Tupelo. The Road to Recovery program helps with transportation to treatment. The Look Good Feel Better program partners with local cosmetologists to help women address skin and hair issues related to cancer treatment.

This fall, the Gertrude C. Ford Hope Lodge will open in Jackson. It will provide lodging and a supportive environment for cancer patients who need to travel to Jackson for cancer treatment. It will have 32 private rooms, shared kitchens, laundry facilities, resource library. It took a $10.9 million capital campaign to bring the Mississippi Hope Lodge to reality.

Nationally, it supports online databases and telephone hotlines that are available 24/7 to people with cancer and their families.

“If you are sitting home on Christmas Eve,” Kelly said. “There’s somebody who will talk to you.”


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