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Survivors, Loved Ones, Caregivers and More Raise Funds for the American Cancer Society at 2016 Relay for Life

By: Colleen Hannon Last Updated: May 14, 2016

The Relay for Life of Greater Valparaiso held their overnight fundraiser walk at Thomas Jefferson Middle School on May 14. The walk brought together 27 teams of survivors, loved ones, caregivers, volunteers and more to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Families and friends gathered in the field house to support each other through camaraderie with music, games and entertainment. Teams sold candy and treats to continue to raise money during the event.

All of the funds raised at the event will fund cancer research and programs provided by the American Cancer Society that will be used in the Greater Valparaiso area. The goal of the event is to raise $44,500 for the ACS.

From 12:00 pm on May 14, to 12:00 am on May, 15, team members took turns walking around the track to honor survivors and those lost to all types of cancer.

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The event also offered a ceremonial Survivor’s Walk for all those who won their battle in the fight against cancer, Survivors of cancer were given Survivor’s medals and were invited to take the first walk around the track. The group was honored with applause and cheers as they took the first lap around the track. The survivors were then honored with a Survivor's Dinner directly afterwards.

Jackie Baird, participant of the walk, came to the event this year as a past chair and eleven-year survivor. She has been participating in this event for about 19 years.

Baird comes to the event every year to meet with other survivors and meet new people. “This is your other family that you never knew you had until you got diagnosed.”

“You come here and you see all these really neat people and then you meet people and you have to say goodbye to some and then there’s always someone new to join us,” Baird said.

In the evening, the Relay for Life event held a Luminaria Ceremony. All were invited to write the name of someone that lost their fight with cancer or someone currently fighting cancer on white paper bags, along with an optional message. Glow sticks are placed in each bag and the bags are placed along the track route. The lights are turned off and the names are read out loud during a moment of silence.

Relay for Life Event Lead, Kim Rushmore and her family became involved with Relay for Life after losing several family members to cancer. “It is so moving just to hear the names read,” said Rushmore. “We honor the people fighting cancer now and the ones that we’ve lost. It’s just a very somber moving ceremony. That’s my favorite ceremony.”

Janet Wartman, Community Manager for the Lakeshore Division of the American Cancer society and four-time survivor, started out working as a volunteer 20 years ago when her son formed a team to walk in her honor, asking her to be the team captain.

According to Wartman, the event offers a lot of hope for those affected by cancer. “Twenty years ago when I was diagnosed I didn’t want to tell anybody I had cancer because people treat you differently. And I was only given 6 months to live and I’m here. I would go to bed every night and pray that I could just see my kids graduate elementary school. And I’ve watched them all graduate from college.”

“Just seeing all those purple shirts earlier and seeing everyone come out for all the same purpose and all the same reasons to support each other,” Wartman said. “There’s just so much hope out there and cancer doesn’t have to be a dying disease anymore.”

Janet Wartman’s daughter, Monica Wartman, also participates in the Relay for Life events and is very proud of her mom. ”My mom is wonderful and extremely inspirational. She’s very passionate about her job and what she is doing for the community.”

“My favorite part about Relay,” Monica continued. “is seeing how the community comes together to fight such a nasty disease. My second favorite thing is knowing the money we raise, stays in its community. It helps patients with a variety of wonder services.”

The American Cancer Society offers many services including Hope Lodges, a place where patients and their families can stay during treatment free of cost, a transportation service called Road to Recovery, where trained volunteers give patients rides to and from their treatments and many more.

The ACS also offers online support groups and their National Cancer Information Center, which provides information and support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to families and patients.