Relay for Life raises $13K at 2017 event

Luminaries line the floor during the Relay For Life of Oktibbeha County on Friday. The luminaries represent the names of survivors, those battling cancer and those who have lost their lives to cancer. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

The air in the Mississippi Horse Park indoor arena last Friday was warm with the aroma of funnel cake grease and the smell of charcoal wafted in through the doors on a humid summer breeze.

The carnival-like atmosphere saw people of all ages in costume and laughs echoed throughout the venue in tandem with loud speakers blasting dance music.

But the atmosphere also held a somber tone. Around the track were decorated paper bags holding a plastic candle and bearing the names of someone touched by a condition that knows no discrimination - cancer.

Relay For Life of Oktibbeha County used the popular Starkville venue for its 2017 event and organizers were pleased with the turnout - which saw $13,000 raised during the course of the night to benefit the American Cancer Society and other programs seeking to help the countless people and caregivers dealing with cancer.

The theme for this year’s event was “Heroes of Hope: fighting for a world without cancer.”

The worldwide fundraising effort saw $406 million raised last year alone to fund life-saving cancer research grants, in addition to the myriad other benefits brought about by communities coming together for Relays.

Oktibbeha County Relay For Life event lead Caleb Rich said for the year so far, their efforts have raised just over $75,000.

“A lot goes to fund ACS programs and keep them going,” Rich said.

Rich said the support given by Relay For Life fundraising not only benefits research grants, but helps provide information on different kinds of cancer to those diagnosed and their caregivers

“Anybody can call in and get emotional support and learn about treatment options,” Rich said.

Rich said approximately 40 to 45 cancer survivors participated in the Relay. Last year, Relay For Life of Oktibbeha County raised almost $90,000, but this year added a separate survivor and caregiver banquet to provide a new component to the event.

“In years prior, we did a reception and this year we opted to do a separate dinner out at the Hilton Garden Inn,” Rich said. “We got to listen to a few survivors from our area and hear their stories, so that’s probably the biggest standout to me this year, to have a larger event to celebrate them before Relay.”

A HERO BEHIND THE HOPE

When asked why he chose to be so heavily involved with Relay For Life instead of the wealth of other things capable of eating up time, Rich’s answer was simple.

Rich was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in May 2012 and upon being told his cancer was in remission, he wanted to give back.

“I told them as long as God was willing, and I was able, I wanted to do whatever I could to give back and it didn’t take me very long to settle on Relay,” Rich said. “I could use my passion to help out.”

Due to a genetic mutation, Rich was in a high risk group for relapse, which led him to have a stem cell transplant in 2013. Despite the trials associated with his leukemia diagnosis, his spirit stayed strong.

Sitting back with a smile in a lawn chair on the fringe of the fun and excitement at Relay For Life on Friday, Rich seemed to embody the range of emotions felt by all who have been touched in some way by cancer.

“I’m not a doctor or researcher, but I can be a part of this larger fundraiser to help support doctors to find a cure,” Rich said. “It’s a great community to be a part of and it’s uplifting to be a part of a group of people to go through similar journeys. They are so passionate about helping somebody else and know they have a support group this large fighting for them day in and day out.”

Rich draws strength and inspiration from the people surrounding him at events like Relay For Life, but said it’s important to remember those who have passed away - which is the reason for the luminaries wrapping around the track.

“I know on my journey, I met five other patients and all five of them passed away and that adds to my passion for
wanting to fight harder for this because I feel like I’m fighting for them too,” Rich said. “When I look around, I see the other participants and see they are doing that too … fighting for themselves, a family member or friend.”

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