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Cancer fight adopts party theme

Cancer survivors from River Falls and around the county begin the annual Relay for Life each year by walking an honorary lap together. In the midst of the purple shirts that signify survivor status, Jon Ver Burg waves to supporters at a previous-year's event. <i>Journal file photo</i>

The American Cancer Society makes it easy for people to help those battling the disease by offering multiple and different opportunities at one, big event: Relay for Life of Pierce County takes place April 5-6 at the River Falls High School.

That's when hundreds of people pour into the gym and commons for the huge annual fundraiser that honors individuals lost to the disease, supports those who face battles with it, and furthers research that may one day eliminate cancer.

ACS's regional Community Relations representative Kellie Burrows said this year's Relay also marks the 100th anniversary of the organization billed as "the official sponsor of birthdays."

She says the local event furthers the overall ACS mission to "finish the fight" and carries a theme specific to Pierce County -- "It's a birthday party and cancer isn't invited."

The evening begins at 6 p.m. Friday with the opening ceremony and concludes about 8 a.m. Saturday morning.

Many people attending belong to a cancer-fighting fundraiser team that essentially commits to keeping at least one team member walking on the track during all the Relay's hours.

Teams 'camp' on the gym floor for the night, resting and walking in shifts and using creative ways to persevere through the night.

Teams raise money through sponsorships and with creative ideas they implement before and at the Relay. So far, 42 teams -- more than 300 people -- are registered to participate.

Relay organizers emphasize that the event is open to everyone and offers something for everyone. Guests can come eat breakfast and/or dinner, browse the auction, play games, watch the entertainment and moving presentations.

Anyone can come and relate at the Relay -- people do not need to have cancer, know someone with cancer or be on a fundraising team to attend, as some people believe about the event.

Burrows said organizers would like to reach the fundraising goal of $162,000 with the 2013 event. People can also donate toward the event for many weeks after it. She said fund go toward life-saving research and to giving free wigs, live 24/7 support, lodging and more.

The local Rotary Club serves a spaghetti dinner 5-8 p.m., and the Lions Club arrives early to cook then and serve a hot breakfast.

Games, live music, informational exhibits, fun kids' activities and lots of socializing maintain a high-energy environment throughout the night. Visitors like coming to watch the hilarity of the Dude Looks Like a Lady Contest and Hula Hoop challenges.

Dozens of local cancer survivors gather to kick off the event with a moving gesture: All dressed in purple T-shirts, they come from one room together, walking in one, long line to rousing applause -- through the high school commons area and around the gym track. They walk it once by themselves and again with their honored caregivers.

Each survivor usually wears a paper chain around their neck -- with one link for each year since they beat cancer.

The evening's honorary Relay chairpersons tell their moving stories, and everyone gets a chance to honor those lost to cancer in the luminaria ceremony that happens around 9:30 p.m. Friday. People can purchase one of the simple 'lanterns' to be lit in memory of their loved one.

Burrows mentions the core reasons why ACS and so many others do "Relay for Life."

One in three people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and proceeds from Relay save lives by funding research, early detection and prevention education, advocacy efforts and patient services.

She said, "It is because of your involvement that we are able to help people to stay well, get well, find cures and fight back!"