Relay For Life: Helping to Fight Cancer and Honor Survivors

Connie McKinney By Connie McKinney, 28th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Volunteering

Every year, thousands of people take to the track and walk laps to raise money for cancer research, treatments and services for people with cancer. This is why we do it year after year.

How Relay For Life Started

Lights glow in the darkness as walkers circle the track. Behind every light, there's a story of a cancer survivor or someone who lost their fight against cancer.
This is the scene at thousands of events across the United States and 20 other countries during an event known as Relay for Life. The idea is simple: teams raise money to benefit the American Cancer Society's research, treatment and services for people with cancer. Team members take turns circling a track for 24 hours. Many teams pitch tents along the track.
Relay events began nearly 30 years ago through the efforts of Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington. Dr. Klatt saw first-hand the devastation cancer could cause his patients and wanted to help the American Cancer Society in its battle against cancer. In 1985, he walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma and raised $27,000. Today, the event has raised more than $4 billion and helped numerous cancer survivors, according to the American Cancer Society.

How the Relay Event Works

Every relay events starts with a survivors' lap. Wearing purple t-shirts, the survivors proudly circle the track as onlookers applaud them. This is their moment to shine.
Next up is the caregivers' lap. Those who care for someone who has cancer victim get their turn in the spotlight. Sometimes, the caregivers walk with the people they take care of. Or they walk alone. Either way, they still get a much-deserved round of applause from everyone present.
The third lap is for everyone who participates on a relay team. Each team tries to stick together although it can be a crowded lap. At many relay events, the team lap ends with an offical team photo by a photographer.
From then on, team members take turns walking around the track. The idea is to have someone from each team on the track for the whole 24 hours. This is meant to symbolize that cancer never sleeps.

Fund-raising For a Good Cause

Long before the first lap, teams are hard at work raising money. Teams hold bake sales, car washes, bottle drives and other fund-raisers designed to make money.
My own relay team is planning an ice cream fund-raiser. Between 6 and 9 p.m. on our fund-raising night, the ice cream shop will donate 15 percent of the proceeds they make to our cause. It's a pretty sweet deal: eat ice cream and help people with cancer.
Team members also ask for donations. These can be done online using a credit or debit card or through paper checks. Donations come in all sizes. Some people give five dollars while other people might donate a hundred or more dollars. Every donation is accepted gratefully.

The Luminaria Ceremony

One of the highlights of the relay is the lighting of the luminarias: candles placed in paper bags which symbolize a livng or deceased person who has cancer. These are the twinkling lights which glow around the track.
Some people use markers to decorate the bags with drawings of flowers, animals or people. Other people tape a photo of their loved one to the bag. Still others simply scrawl the name of their loved one. Luminarias for survivors usually say: in honor of. Those luminarias for deceased loved ones say: in memory of. Each light has a story behind it of a survivor or someone who lost their fight.

Why We Do It

Some people might wonder why people work so hard to raise money and walk the track at 3 a.m. during relay events. We do it because we care about the people we lost to cancer and those who are fighting their battles against it. My own team honors my late mother-in-law, Sally McKinney, who died of uterine cancer. When Sally was alive, she loved to put on her purple survivor's t-shirt and walk the opening lap during the relay. She was proud to be part of the cause and proud of her children, in-laws and grandchildren who participated in the relay. This year, we will once again light a luminaria in her memory.
If you would like more information about joining or supporting a relay team, please visit


American Cancer Society, Cancer, Cancer Fighting, Cancer Survivors, Cancers, Relay, Relay For Life, Survivors

Meet the author

author avatar Connie McKinney
I enjoy exercising, pets, and volunteering as well as writing about these topics and others.

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