Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Relay for Life & Honoring Cancer Survivors, Fighters

By Melissa Morse

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life event is a life-changing experience. Our local Relay For Life of the Beltway will be held on Saturday, May 21, 2016 at George Mason High School from noon – midnight and celebrates the communities of Falls Church, Vienna, and Arlington.

Even though Relay for Life has been around for 30 years, questions still come up from time to time – what is Relay all about? Is it a race? Is it just for kids? Is it only for people who have cancer? How can I participate? I’m hoping to answer some of these questions here.

While the main objective of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life is to raise money for cancer research and cancer patients, a significant part of the program also celebrates the lives of cancer survivors and remembers those who lost their lives to cancer. The format of the event is comprised of teams of all ages and representations – high school and college students, adults of all ages, employees from businesses. These teams establish monetary goals and raise money before and during the event, all of which is donated to the American Cancer Society. The day of Relay, each team is assigned a space along the football field. They set up tents, folding chairs, bring food and drink and prepare to be comfortable and have fun as they participate in the many activities at the event.

Relay For Life is spent on the field honoring cancer survivors and remembering those who have fought or are fighting this disease, raising money and building awareness to benefit current cancer victims. For some people, this event is very personal; maybe they have lost a loved one to cancer and wish to honor them, or maybe they are a cancer survivor and are there to celebrate. There are others who just want to raise money to fight this horrible disease. All of them are equally welcome to participate in Relay. At the event, we have three important ceremonies to celebrate, remember, and fight back against cancer.

The first, celebration, is to honor local cancer survivors. If you are, or know someone, touched by cancer, please join us for a free brunch at 10:30 a.m. in the George Mason High School cafeteria to celebrate you! We will then have our survivor lap around the track to honor your victories.

Relay of Life of the Beltway is for everyone in our community, and all of us can participate in one way or another. Examples: Are you someone who can rally a group of friends, co-workers or family members to create a Relay for Life team, do fundraising, and participate in the event? Come up with a name, go to the website and sign up your team at relayforlife.org/beltwayVA. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people – four or five can make a big difference. Do you live near or work alongside someone who already has a team? Help them by making a donation. If you can afford it, make it a big donation; if you can’t, donate what you can. Any amount will help them and their efforts.

Can you help the team raise money? Some teams do yard sales, some teams do bake sales and some hold fundraisers at local restaurants. Maybe you can offer something from your attic for their yard sale, donate a batch of cookies to their bake sale or have dinner at their restaurant fundraiser.

You can also fundraise through dedications to loved ones. At Relay, there is a Luminaria Ceremony which is held at 8 p.m. Luminaria bags are marked with the names of cancer victims, survivors or caregivers and are lighted and set up around the track. Relay participants and members of the community take a solemn walk around the track to honor and remember these people. You can make a donation by purchasing a luminary, giving the name of someone you would like to be remembered. A Luminary Dedication only costs $10, and can easily be done online at relayforlife.org/beltwayVA. You don’t have to be at the ceremony to honor someone but I encourage you to attend this special event. This is one of the most moving ceremonies you will ever experience in your life.

Can you volunteer? Relay needs people to help out with the physical stuff, but we also need people who can sit behind a table and help keep things moving and organized. You’re not there alone, our team will already be there; we just need a few more hands. You are also welcome to come for any amount of time-whether that is one hour or 12 hours!

I hope this has not only answered your questions but has encouraged you to participate. If so, go to our website atrelayforlife.org/beltwayVA. For any other questions, please feel free to contact me at melissakmorse@earthlink.net or our community manager Katie Sue Van Valkenburg at katiesue.vanvalkenburg@cancer.org.

Cancer is something that affects our whole community; Relay for Life is a way for the whole community to fight back. Whatever you can do will be warmly received and appreciated.


Melissa Morse is a volunteer for Relay for Life of the Beltway.