For months, they’ve been planning – washing cars, selling flowers and gift baskets, hosting pet talent contests, collecting pennies, auctioning off local celebrities and dancing with members of local governments – all to raise money for the fight against cancer.

The efforts of hundreds of volunteers throughout the Florida Keys community will culminate in the first of three overnight celebrations of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life as the Upper Keys’ “Spring for a Cure” Relay for Life kicks off tonight at Coral Shores High School at 6 pm.

Linda Boyce of Team Ta-Ta’s also serves as publicity chair, and said this year’s event is not to be missed. Friday evening’s activities include the opening ceremony and a survivor recognition lap, food, games, live entertainment and the always emotional and moving luminaria ceremony.  “There will be people walking the track all night long as cancer never sleeps,” Boyce said. 

Tai chi, yoga and pilates demonstrations will be held on Saturday morning alongside a breakfast buffet available for $7. Silent auctions, chance drawings and more live entertainment will wrap up the morning.

So, What’s It All About?

The signature event of the American Cancer Society is an annual community-wide fundraising effort to Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back. Team members from local churches, schools, banks and businesses walk for a minimum of 18 hours to celebrate the lives of those who have survived cancer, remember loved ones who lost the battle and fight back against the disease that has taken so much.

Relay for Life began in the mid 1980s when a Washington doctor was looking for creative ways to raise money for his local American Cancer Society office.

Now in its 25th year, Relay for Life began as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer. In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon and avid marathon runner in Tacoma, spent 24 hours circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound for more than 83 miles.

Throughout the night, nearly 300 of Dr. Klatt’s friends, family and patients paid $25 to run or walk with him for 30 minutes. His efforts proved successful – he raised $27,000 towards his local chapter in the fight against cancer.

As he circled the track for those grueling 24 hours, Dr. Klatt thought about how he could engage others in his battle. Months later, he and a committee of others organized the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

In 1986, 19 teams took part in the first team relay event on the track and raised $33,000.

The energy and spirit that prevailed on the infield and track that night so long ago continues to permeate each of the events across the country.

The Middle Keys Relay for Life will be celebrating the area’s heritage with a train-themed “Cancer Cure Express” event slated for March 27–28 at the Community Park.

Mary Stella, publicity chair and a member of the Dolphin Research Center team, has been actively involved in the event since 1994 in New Jersey and Marathon. Her pride in her community and passion for the cause are clear.

“We invite everyone to come out and participate, even if you’re not a team member,” Stella said. “There’s tons of food for sale, and starting at midnight, each of the teams do a social half hour to keep everybody awake. It’s a great thing for the whole family to do together.”

Everybody Knows Somebody

Nearly every Relay participant, team member and volunteer gets involved because their lives have been touched, directly or indirectly, by cancer.
According to ACS, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. The funds raised at Relay save lives by funding cutting-edge cancer research, early detection and prevention education, advocacy efforts, and life-affirming patient services.

If not diagnosed with the disease first hand, everybody knows somebody who’s been affected.

Anie Perez, captain of team Walgreens in Marathon, is a two-time cancer survivor. For the past four years, she and her teammates – the only Relay team from a Walgreens store in the entire state – celebrate the life of a cancer survivor close to their work family. Initially, team Walgreens celebrated Perez’s victory over cancer in her uterus and fallopian tubes. Another year, they celebrated the life of their general manager’s mother. Perez said this year, her teammates are proud to celebrate the life of manager Judy Mastreprieto who has survived her battle with breast cancer.

Perez echoes the sentiments of three-time Relay chairperson and breast cancer survivor, Charlotte Quinn.

“Everyone needs to get regular screening and checkups,” Perez said emphatically, adding that she was feeling no pain when a routine physical alerted her to malignant tumors in her own body.

Coming In May

The Lower Keys Relay for Life event is slated for May 1-2.

Like the Upper and Middle Keys teams, several fundraising events have been held in the past few months. Next weekend, a Survivor and Caregiver Brunch will be held from 1-3 pm at the White Street Bistro Garden in Key West. Both survivors and caregivers from throughout the Keys will be honored and entertained with great music by Alex and The Amigos. For more information, contact Sandra Gordon at (305) 797-0658 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Each year, event chairman and team captains brainstorm how to make each event more memorable than the last. The Middle Keys event will feature a butterfly release on Saturday morning, and the Lower Keys survivor lap will begin with a ceremonial and symbolic dove release.

Carrie Helliesen, Executive Director of the American Cancer Society in Key West (see Neighbor of the Week on pg. 5) said last year’s combined Relay events raised $384,636 to benefit ACS.

“I’m so proud of the Florida Keys communities and their combined efforts in the fight against cancer,” she exclaimed.

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