Relay1.jpgKENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

Alvah Fryer, a ten-year cancer survivor and committee member for the Knox County Relay for Life, helps with registration Friday evening for the annual event, held on the Knox College campus.

Relay echoes road to recovery

Fundraiser an emotional event for participants

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Carl Sandburg College

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Emotions ran the gamut at Friday night's Relay for Life of Knox County at Knox College. There was joy and enthusiasm during the survivors' walk; there were tears as some recounted their battle against cancer; there were bittersweet memories of those claimed by the disease.

Sixty-five teams registered for this year's American Cancer Society event. Most have at least 15 members, though some have fewer.

Annette Pickrel and Erin Olson served as this year's co-chairs. Despite Olson's enthusiasm and hard work, Pickrel clarified Friday that Erin is not a cancer survivor, despite what was recently printed in The Register-Mail.

Pickrel said the goal was at least 180 survivors at this year's event. By Friday morning, 184 were already registered, with many more signing up at the college Friday night. As of Friday morning, more than 1,700 luminaria honoring loved ones had been purchased. This year's goal was to raise $157,000.

"The goal is actually set by the American Cancer Society and they set it on a per capita basis," Pickrel said.

As the survivors began their walk around the sidewalk near the Knox College track, friends, families and supporters clapped and cheered as they walked past. The survivors let their purple and balloons go, setting them free to fly away.

Janice Maxwell, a cancer survivor since 1985, said she thinks of a number of different things as she walks her lap.

"I just think of all the people that come here every year," Maxwell said. "Some of them aren't with us anymore."

In large part, the feeling early in the evening is one of joy, as the survivors and thousands of supporters are fired up for the fight against what one survivor called "this nasty, despicable disease."

Mary Johns of Avon was there to support Maxwell, her aunt, and Janene Stillson of Yates City, her cousin. Maxwell said the encouragement helps make the evening enjoyable.

"It's kind of fun," Maxwell said of the survivors' lap, "because everyone claps for you."

The flying, soaring theme this year meant there were plenty of aircraft-theme items at the tents of the teams, whose members stayed until the closing ceremony at 8 a.m. today.

Julie Larson, whose brother Jeff Larson was claimed by cancer in 1999, the day he graduated from ROWVA High School, told the crowd how the stages of the relay relate to the treatment cancer patients endure.

The relay begins with the setting of the sun, Julie Larson said.

"The day is getting darker," symbolic of the feelings of the patient and family when the cancer diagnosis is made.

She said 2 to 3 a.m. represents one of the darkest times, when the person with cancer is going through the treatment, which often leads to hair loss, vomiting and other side effects. Those at the relay will feel tired and may want to go home and sleep, but they can't give up, she said, just as the person being treated has to continue on.

Four or 5 a.m. "symbolizes the coming of the end of treatment for cancer patients," Julie Larson said. "When you leave the relay, think of the cancer patient leaving their last treatment."

There is fatigue and weariness both for those at the relay and the cancer patient.

Pickrel said planning for next year's event literally begins while this year's is still in progress.

"We talk about what works and what doesn't," she said of the time during the middle of the night when the relay quiets down. "If people have ideas, we think about it."

Donations can be made online through Aug. 31 at the local Relay for Life's first-time Web site. Looking over the huge crowd, soaking in a rare cool, low humidity July night in western Illinois, Pickrel said, "This has been the best weather we've ever had for a relay. ... It was meant to be."

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On the Net:

www.acsevents.org/relay/il/knox

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