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Taking a stand against cancer

Clarke County to hold first Relay for Life event June 14

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 3:34 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 3:36 p.m. CDT

For the first time ever, Clarke County is holding a Relay for Life event.

It will be 6 p.m. June 14 to 6 a.m. June 15 at Clarke High School Track.

"It's the type of event that, even if you're not participating, we really encourage people to come to, and just come together as a community and experience it," said Karen Irwin, event chairwoman for Clarke County Relay for Life.

Relay for Life

Relay for Life is an organized, overnight community fundraising walk. Teams of people are organized around a track and members of each team take turns walking around the track.

Food, games and activities provide entertainment and aim to build camaraderie. Relay for Life is a family-friendly environment for the entire community.

Irwin was one of the driving forces behind bringing Relay for Life to Clarke County.

In 2002, Irwin's father died of leukemia. Her mother died of lung cancer in 2005. A daughter of one of Irwin's friends also died of cancer at age 6.

Before moving to the Osceola area, Irwin participated in Relay for Life for many years. After moving, Irwin joined Relay for Life in Chariton, but wanted to establish one in Clarke County.

"Interestingly enough, since then, I've just heard of so many people in the community that have been affected by cancer," Irwin said.

"I think especially in small towns, too, I mean, you're so connected to everyone that people feel like family even if they're not related," added Paula Reece, publicity chairwoman for Clarke County Relay for Life.

Irwin encouraged participants to bring campers, tents and stay overnight. There will be various activities throughout the night, including food, dancing and a disc jockey.

There will also be various events scheduled throughout the night.

Survivors' Lap

During the "Survivors' Lap," all cancer survivors at the event take the first lap around the track. The purpose of the lap is to celebrate their victory over cancer while being cheered on by the other participants who line the track.

Relay For Life events also recognize and celebrate caregivers who support people with cancer.

Kay Risser is the honorary chairwoman for Clarke County Relay for Life.  As a cancer survivor, she will be part of the opening ceremony and lead the survivor lap, which is always the first lap at every relay.

Luminaria Ceremony

The "Luminaria Ceremony" takes place after dark. The purpose of the ceremony is to remember those who have died of cancer, honor those who have fought cancer in the past and support those whose fight continues.

Candles are lighted inside of personalized bags and placed around the Relay track as glowing tributes to those who’ve been affected by cancer.

Irwin said the "Luminaria Ceremony" is the first thing that got her "hooked" on Relay for Life.

"When I saw those luminaries lit up, I thought, 'Wow, that's a lot of people who have been affected by cancer,'" she said.

At midnight, there will be the "Fight Back Ceremony." The purpose of the ceremony is to symbolize the emotional commitment each of person can make in the fight against cancer.

Raising awareness

Irwin said one of the most important things about Clarke County Relay for Life is to raise awareness, especially with the American Cancer Society.

"One of my big things is trying to educate people about what all the programs are that the American Cancer Society offers," she said. "And, then, also, just to support people in the community who either are survivors or know somebody who's battling cancer."

Irwin said she absolutely hopes Clarke County Relay for Life continues for years to come.

"I want to see it grow. I want to see it become huge," she said.

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