Local troops prepare for annual cancer battle

Published 12:07 am Sunday, April 26, 2015

File photo — Relay for Life Life teams, above, begin the 2014 fundraiser with the survivors’ lap and balloon  launch.

File photo — Relay for Life Life teams, above, begin the 2014 fundraiser with the survivors’ lap and balloon launch.

They don’t wear armor, but they might as well be soldiers for what they’ve battled.

Cancer survivors across the Miss-Lou will be honored May 1 at the 2015 Miss-Lou Relay for Life at the Concordia Parish Recreation Complex in Vidalia.

“I don’t want to call it a party atmosphere, because we’re certainly there for a serious reason,” said Relay for Life co-chair Julia Drews. “But we are celebrating the lives of the survivors, and that’s worthy of a celebration.”

Since 1996, the Miss-Lou Relay for Life has raised more than $3 million for the American Cancer Society.

Those funds alone are a huge feat, Drews said, because there aren’t many large industries in the Miss-Lou to sponsor Relay for Life.

“This is all small town people and small town businesses, so this is truly amazing,” she said.

The night will begin at 5:15 p.m. with a survivor reception, followed by a “Celebrate Speaker,” Susan Weed, who has been cancer free for eight years.

“I haven’t missed one Relay for Life since my diagnosis,” Weed said. “Being cancer free now, it means sharing that you can beat cancer.”

And while the night will celebrate survivors, a special moment will also be dedicated to honor those who have lost their battle.

At 9 p.m., a luminary service will be held with lanterns released to the tune of “What a Wonderful World.”

Drews said the luminary service — along with the survivor lap — tug at her heartstrings every year.

“You can just see the determination on their faces,” Drews said. “The lap, it signifies that they have survived another year. They’re living.”

Similar to Drews, Relay co-chair Janis Holder said it’s always humbling to see survivors rally together to raise funds for cancer research.

“They are so joyous to be there,” Holder said. “And I do believe they feel honored.”

Other events throughout the night will include a “Hope and Fight Back Service,” various games like a mummy wrap relay and ping pong relay along with a special speech from Debra Merritt, who lost her husband, Cliff Merritt, to colon cancer.

“She has gone on to go to Washington, D.C., to promote cancer awareness,” Drews said. “She is a very powerful speaker.”

Toward the end of the night, Relay for Life teams will be judged and trophies will be awarded to the most spirited, creative teams.

In years past, Holder said team themes have run the gamut of goofy to “downright hysterical.”

“They’ve been fundraising for this all year,” Holder said. “It’ll be great to see what everyone has come up with.”

Holder encouraged the whole community to get involved with this year’s Relay, and to support the American Cancer Society.

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Holder said. “Hopefully a cure is right around the corner.”