County's Relay For Life raises $87K
WORTHINGTON -- With the luminaries extinguished and the sun dawning on a new day, Nobles County Relay For Life chairwoman Kim Lambert announced Saturday morning nearly $87,000 had been raised to support the American Cancer Society and its efforts to find cures.
While falling short of last year's record-setting Relay tally of $93,000, Lambert said she was happy with the amount of money raised.
"I think it was still very good," she said on Sunday. "We're at $87,000 and we're very pleased with that."
The Farley's & Sathers Starlights team, which earned the ACS diamond status for raising $30,045 in 2009, bested that amount this year with $34,010 raised for the Relay For Life. The JBS team came in second with $11,029.90, earning it a gold ranking. Also earning gold status this year was the Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington team, with $8,259.94 raised.
As people gathered for Friday night's opening ceremony, many of the survivors were wearing their purple Relay T-shirts, which were imprinted on the back with the words, "Had it. Fought it. Survived it."
The words summed up the journey of a cancer patient, but also served to give strength and encouragement to those battling the disease.
Rev. Mike Zaske, who opened the ceremony, told the survivors their presence at the Relay gave him strength. His mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery 23 days ago, he said.
"When cancer strikes, all you can do is wait -- wait for surgeries to heal," Zaske said. "We don't wait without purpose. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength."
Honorary Relay For Life Chair Sharon Kelly encouraged attendees with her message of hope and maintaining a positive attitude.
"Even a bad day is a good day, because you're here to live it," Kelly said. "Tonight, let's celebrate life and more birthdays."
The American Cancer Society has become the official sponsor of more birthdays, and the theme carried through the evening, from decorated campsites to some team members wearing birthday cake hats.
The celebration was also evident when survivors were called to the front of the stage to take part in the release of more than 100 monarch butterflies.
Doris Probst of Worthington said the Relay For Life is an emotional event for her -- not just in being able to release a butterfly, but also to walk around the track and see the names of so many people she knows.
Probst was a 10-year survivor of uterine cancer before being diagnosed with breast cancer last October. Though her treatments are complete, she continues on her journey of healing.
"It's very emotional," she said of the Relay. "You have all sorts of feelings -- joy, sorrow."
For Probst, making the lap around the track as a survivor was a walk alone, she said. To her, it symbolized that the cancer was within her -- that she had to fight it on her own. Still, she said she couldn't have done it without the support of her caregivers, including her husband.
"You need someone to walk with you," she said. On Friday night, she had her husband, two daughters and a son joined her for support.
"We're going to walk as a family," Probst said with a tear in her eye. "That means a lot to me."
Along the east side of the track, just a short distance from the stage, stood three large signs containing three simple words -- Celebrate. Remember. Fight back.
The signs were crafted by Dennis Zierke of Worthington, who has been cancer-free since 2003. Surviving cancer has allowed him to continue to do what he enjoys -- working with wood.
On Friday night, taking a break inside the hockey arena, Zierke spoke of his reasons for coming back to the Relay year after year.
"I just like to see the research done and hope they find a cure," he said. "They have found a cure for some things."
Zierke lost one sister to cancer, and watched as his mom, one brother and two other sisters battled the disease. He said he does what he can to support the American Cancer Society by buying luminaries and bidding on silent auction items to help raise money for continued cancer research.
Barb Thier of Rushmore will mark 22 years as a cancer survivor this October. As a member of the Avera Worthington Specialty Clinic Relay team, she helped raise more than $1,100 for the team as of Friday night.
"Hopefully we can raise enough money so they can do the research and find the cures for all of the cancers," she said of the Relay. "It would be nice if the kids wouldn't get it."
Thier spoke of a 6-year-old boy from Lakefield who is currently battling leukemia. With tears in her eyes, she said it would be nice if everyone would pray for him. His name is Danny.
"I'm walking for him, my mom, my niece, my brother, my sister-in-law -- lots and lots of people," she said.
One of the few children clad in a purple survivor shirt Friday night was 18-year-old Tanner Baumgard of Brewster. Baumgard was diagnosed with neuroblastoma five years ago and, after more than a year and a half of treatment, he has reached three years cancer-free.
Each of those three years, Baumgard has returned to the Nobles County Relay For Life to share an evening with fellow survivors.
"It's fun," he said. "I'm glad to be doing it."
Baumgard said it made him feel good to be able to walk around the luminary-lined track.
"A lot of people have had cancer," he added.
Dawn of a new day
In a new format this year that extended the Relay to 7 a.m., several cancer survivors returned to the track for a closing prayer led by Rev. Richard Ricker on Saturday.
Ricker, who made a couple of laps around the luminary-lined track prior to the program, said each one of the bags carrying a name of a cancer victim or cancer survivor was as important as the one beside it.
"There's great darkness in this disease, but there's also the light within each of you," Ricker told the survivors and team members in attendance.
The darkness and the dawning of a new day are symbolic in the ACS Relay For Life, as they mirror the journey people with cancer must travel. The darkness represents learning you have cancer and going through the course of treatments, while the sunrise symbolizes a battle won -- a day when the word 'survivor' is tacked on behind 'cancer.'