Re­lay for Life

Fight­ing cancer and cel­e­brat­ing hope

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - In This Issue - By Lind­sey Wells, Pho­tog­ra­phy by Mara Kuhn and cour­tesy of the Gar­land County Re­lay for Life

Now in its 31st year, Re­lay for Life, the sig­na­ture fundraiser for the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety, cel­e­brates peo­ple across the globe who bat­tled cancer or fight to put an end to the dis­ease once and for all.

The dif­fi­cult re­al­ity is that ev­ery­one has been im- pacted by cancer in some way, whether per­son­ally or through fam­ily, friends or co-work­ers.

Re­lay for Life of Gar­land County has been go­ing strong for 18 years, hav­ing raised $3.5 mil­lion dol­lars to fund cancer re­search since it be­gan, said Donna Kaye Smith, com­mu­nity man­ager for Gar­land County's re­lay.

This year's free June 3 event will be­gin at 6 p.m. in the Bank of the Ozarks Arena and Ex­hibit Halls C and D of the Hot Springs Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and end at 2 a.m.

The theme is “Trav­elin' Arkansas for a Cure” and each team will en­com­pass some­thing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Arkansas, whether it be a city, an event or a sports team.

“The ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee just got to­gether and we tossed around some dif­fer­ent ideas and we thought it would be fun and peo­ple can re­ally be cre­ative here,” said Serethia Craw­ford, event chair. “You can go around the track and see that no­body's the same, every­body's dif­fer­ent. You're trav­el­ing Arkansas.”

Tra­di­tion­ally an out­door event, the first re­lay was held in 1998 at the Lake­side School Dis­trict track. Af­ter a few years, it was re­lo­cated to the in­field at Oak­lawn Park, where it stayed un­til suc­ces­sive bouts of foul weather forced or­ga­niz­ers to find an in­door venue.

“Oak­lawn has been won­der­ful to us; they're won­der­ful sup­port­ers, but the last four years we were there the weather killed us,” said Smith. “We'd ei­ther have a drought and they wouldn't let us burn the can­dles, or we'd have a mon­soon.”

In 2014, the event re­lo­cated to a cov­ered area at the Gar­land County Fair­grounds just two days be­fore the event due to fore­casts of heavy rain.

“That was the mir­a­cle re­lay,” added Smith. “Every­body loved be­ing closer to­gether and ev­ery­one said it was more in­ti­mate there.”

Event or­ga­niz­ers worked with the staff at Hot Springs Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, and in 2015 se­cured the arena and Ex­hibit Hall D for the event, which was a per­fect fit, Smith said. This year, in ad­di­tion to the arena and Ex­hibit Hall D, guests will also en­joy the use of Ex­hibit Hall C, pro­vid­ing an even big­ger space for re­lay fes­tiv­i­ties.

“We're un­der the roof, we have air con­di­tion­ing. Our sur­vivors are there and they can't take the heat any more than us old peo­ple can,” said Craw­ford, adding that the venue is more ac­ces­si­ble to those with wheel­chairs and walk­ers.

“Last year, I had a lady call me be­fore the event and she was very ex­cited be­cause she was go­ing to get to come; she was al­ler­gic to the grass so she can't go to an out­door event. She's a cancer sur­vivor and was able to join us last year be­cause we were in­side,” Craw­ford added.

Forty-eight teams have signed up so far and have al­ready raised $90,000 of the $220,000 goal through fundrais­ers and do­na­tions.

“We raised al­most $215,000 last year so we bumped it up just a lit­tle this year and I think we'll do it; we've got more teams,” said Smith, adding that some teams are still fundrais­ing and will con­tinue to raise funds be­tween now and the event.

Smith and Craw­ford said that some of the fundrais­ers they've seen have in­cluded bake sales, raf­fles, a minia­ture golf tour­na­ment, din­ner par­ties with si­lent auc­tion items, paint­ing par­ties and beauty pageants.

The fundraiser runs through Au­gust and a gala event will be held at Ar­ling­ton Re­sort Ho­tel & Spa on Aug. 13 to wrap up Re­lay for Life's fundrais­ing year.

“We're also go­ing to have, on the day of the event, Dude Looks Like a Lady, which is a fundraiser with men that dress up like the ladies with all of the ac­ces­sories,” Craw­ford said. “They just go around and take do­na­tions and it's a big com­pe­ti­tion be­tween them. Last year's win­ner had a hairy face and legs and he looked great!”

Each team will have their own area set up around a track where they can hold on­site fundrais­ers, serve food and bev­er­ages and play games with guests.

Smith said most of the money raised by Re­lay for Life will go to fund cancer re­search.

“Since 1991, we've dropped 23 per­cent in the mor­tal­ity rate, which is pretty darn good,” she said. “I've worked with Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety for five years and each year that I've worked it's dropped a per­cent-

“We raised al­most $ 215,000 last year so we bumped it up just a lit­tle this year and I think we'll do it; we've got more teams.”

age. It's progress, it's good, and two out of three peo­ple that are di­ag­nosed to­day will sur­vive. That's why we con­tinue, and we're go­ing to do it un­til we don't need to any­more.”

The cause is im­por­tant to Smith and Craw­ford both, as they have each been per­son­ally af­fected by cancer.

Smith said that she lost her grand­mother in the ninth grade to pan­cre­atic cancer and was di­ag­nosed with cancer her­self in 2011.

“But now I'm cancer-free,” she said.

Craw­ford lost her fa­ther to pan­cre­atic cancer at the age of 58 and her mother is a two-time sur­vivor of breast and colon cancer.

“We're the largest non­govern­ment agency that funds cancer re­search,” Smith said. “We have one state per­son that goes into un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties to help get peo­ple screened. We have a pro­gram right now called `80 by 2018.' We've teamed up with 700 other health or­ga­ni­za­tions to try to get 80 per­cent of the peo­ple 50 and over screened for colon/rec­tal cancer and we want that down by 2018.

“We work in so many dif­fer­ent are­nas to help find cures for cancer. Our bot­tom line is we want to build a cancer-free world.”

Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety of­fers nu­mer­ous other pro­grams to cancer pa­tients and their fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing free trans­porta­tion to and from treat­ments through its Road to Re­cov­ery pro­gram, free skin care and makeup prod­ucts and wigs through its Look Good, Feel Bet­ter pro­gram, and sup­port for breast cancer pa­tients through its Reach to Re­cov­ery pro­gram.

Smith said a spe­cial sur­vivor tent, spon­sored by CHI St. Vin­cent, will be set up at this year's event where each sur­vivor will re­ceive a pur­ple T-shirt and a medal­lion.

“We also do a hand­print quilt ev­ery year; they can choose pink or pur­ple (paint) and put their hand­print on a sheet and then we'll have it quilted. We've got 17-18 of them that we hang and they'll be on dis­play at the con­ven­tion cen­ter,” she added.

“We would love nothing more than for the en­tire com­mu­nity to come and cel­e­brate — every­body has some­one to cel­e­brate and re­mem­ber. This truly is Gar­land County's event. It be­longs to us; it's ours.”

Pre­sent­ing spon­sors this year in­clude Na­tional Park Med­i­cal Cen­ter, CHI St. Vin­cent Hot Springs and Wey­er­haeuser.

Gold spon­sors are Hot Springs Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and The Sen­tinel-Record.

Sil­ver spon­sors are Relyance Bank, Regions Bank, Sim­mons Bank, U.S. Sta­tions, Hot Springs F.O.P., Wil­son En­ter­tain­ment and Con­sult- ing and New Im­ages Bou­tique.

Bronze spon­sors are Teen Chal­lenge, First Se­cu­rity Bank, Arkansas Gas­troen­terol­ogy, Dodd Self Stor­age and Horn's Out­doors.

Call Craw­ford at 622-0922 for in­for­ma­tion about vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Re­lay for Life vol­un­teer com­mit­tee mem­bers gather to­gether at CHI St. Vin­cent Hot Springs’ Mercy Room.

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