April 4, 2019

Relay for Life in Arkansas | Tackling Cancer from Every Angle

Relay for Life is the largest global fundraising event fighting cancer. Volunteers for the American Cancer Society gather in their local communities to celebrate a year-long challenge to fundraise for cancer research, education, and patient services. The incredible thing about these efforts is that through fundraising locally, they can connect people in their community to the services offered in their state and nationally and also benefit from the international research efforts funded by the American Cancer Society.

April tends to be the month that many Relay for Life events begin around Arkansas. It kicks off a full event season that will spread into the fall.

So, what happens at a Relay for Life event?

While these events may look different in each community, most take on similar event scheduling and take place on a track. As the primary fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, the event symbolizes the cancer journey. Many think of Relay for Life as a “race” type event, but it is not. People are encouraged to walk, push a stroller, come off and on the track, or run if that’s their preferred mode of transportation. The “relay” comes about in the fact that someone from each fundraising team should be on the track at all times. Many teams will have people sign up for time slots to cover the track throughout the entire event. Since the events usually take place overnight or into the wee hours of the morning, it symbolizes “since cancer never sleeps, we never sleep.”

Events often start in the evening. In the spring, that means dusk has come; much like a cancer diagnosis when the heavy dark cloud of the unknown moves in. Each Relay for Life event kicks off with a survivor lap. All cancer survivors in attendance take a victory lap to get the event started. As they finish their first lap, their caregiver and others who have cared for someone who had cancer join them on the track for a chance to show everyone they are united together. Overnight, groups and teams will gather on the track and participate in games, entertainment and competitions. When dark has fully set in, the event will take a quiet moment to honor and remember those affected by cancer. This very moving ceremony recalls the names of those who have a lighted luminaria illuminating the track. Attendees will take a full lap in silence to peacefully remember why they gathered.

Relay for Life usually includes a “fight back” segment intended to remind those in attendance what they can do individually to fight back against cancer. Attendees may be encouraged to commit to a specific action and sign a banner or commitment card listing their decision to quit smoking, get their annual screenings, meet with a Congressman or Senator, exercise more, change their diet, or share their own story, just to name a few. Relay for Life events typically concludes with entertainment and upbeat celebrations such as a dance party or a womanless beauty pageant. Some will provide games related to the services provided by the American Cancer Society, and others might begin a midnight 5K to close out their event. Whatever the activity, the goal is to look toward dawn when the sun comes up, and you can look back and celebrate what has been accomplished. Just like what those in attendance did overnight by pushing through the hard, early hours of the morning, cancer survivors and their caregivers can celebrate the journey and victory of healing and restoration.

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Relay for Life is a beautiful night meant as a celebration of all that each community has done in the fight against cancer throughout the year.

As you make plans this spring consider the calendar of events below:

April 5 | University of Central Arkansas – Conway
April 12 | Clark County Relay – Arkadelphia
April 12 | Union County Relay – El Dorado
April 26 | Hempstead County Relay – Hope
April 27 | Hot Spring County Relay – Malvern
May 3 | Logan County Relay – Booneville
May 4 | Eastern Arkansas Relay – Wynne
May 10 | Johnson County Relay – Clarksville
May 10 | Ashley County Relay – Crossett
May 11 | South Mississippi County Relay – Osceola
May 17 | Polk County Relay – Mena
May 31 | Garland County Relay – Hot Springs
May 31 | Ouachita County Relay – Camden
May 31 | North Mississippi County Relay – Blytheville
May 31 | Lincoln County Relay – Star City
June 1 | Howard County Relay – Nashville
June 7 | Greene County Relay – Paragould
June 14 | Twin Lakes Relay – Mountain Home
June 22 | Randolph County Relay – Pocahontas
September 20 | Cleburne County Relay – Heber Springs
October 4 | Harding University – Searcy
November 7 | Carroll County Relay – Berryville

And, if you are interested in getting more involved, you can find your specific community event at www.relayforlife.org or by contacting Luke See at luke.see@cancer.org.

As an 11-year cancer survivor myself, I believe there is no better experience than to be personally involved in the fight against cancer. For many years, I celebrated my April birthday at my local Relay event. I’m still moved every time I take a survivor lap and see my caregiver waiting for me at the finish line. Relay for Life across the state of Arkansas is a great way to spend a weekend together as a family, especially if you remember that the walking taco you are eating is saving lives!

Keisha Pittman McKinney is a 10 year cancer survivor and started her blog – bigpittstop – as a way to share her cancer journey with friends and family. 10 years later, bigpittstop is now a lifestyle blog sharing her life as a newlywed at 35 and new mom living in South Arkansas. Whether it is a “big sister chat,” making new memories at landmarks across our state, or capturing her semi-homemade cooking shenanigans you can find her connecting, encouraging and seeking solutions @bigpittstop on most social media platforms. She also shares some of her creativity through her Etsy store – K Cutie Designs.