Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.  

We have all been affected by it in some way, and once we hear that disgusting word in the same sentence as the name of anyone we know, we can feel it. We pick up hope in phrases, such as, “We don’t know for certain…yet” or “it might just be a lump.” But what happens when we do know for certain,and the lump is not just a lump? How can we deal with cancer’s invasion on someone  we love or ourselves? We can remember. And celebrate. And fight   back. We can raise over a quarter of a million dollars over 24 hours and thrust it toward the good guys.

(All Pictures by Kristy Erdodi/Jason Mick/Detroit Chic)

Ann Arbor’s Palmer Field, located on the University of Michigan’s campus, was sprinkled with tents and a diverse community of students, families, university alumni and others of its surrounding community this past weekend. From early morning on Saturday, April 5, until early morning on Sunday, April 6, this diverse group of people came together to celebrate Relay for Life 2008. In the end, it was certain that a celebration had been had, and when the tents and people were gone, it was certain that something was left: $262,000 for the American Cancer Society.

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Pictured: A gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon made for a pleasant walk/run for teams participating in Relay for Life.

Thankfully, the weather was perfect for this year’s participants; compared to last year’s necessity of layers and blankets, bare arms were a sight to see. Although, as relayers learned last year, cold weather will not deter the event, it holds some power because the entire 24 hours over which the event is held are spent outside.

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Pictured: People camped outside and tossed footballs, played the guitar and chatted with friends, while they raised money to fight cancer.

Relay works quite simply. Teams are formed a few months before, at which point they begin fundraising for the American Cancer Society. Each team chooses whatever mode of raising money works for them. The money raised is to be turned in on the day of Relay.

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Pictured: The turnout this year was massive with dozens of teams pitching tents.

During the event, each team is supposed to have at least one member walking (in this case, around Palmer Field’s track) over the whole 24 hour period. Most teams sign up members for walking shifts, or time slots. While members are not walking, they often participate in other events going on, or simply hang out at the tent their team has set up, playing games, grilling food or socializing with passers.

Although money is turned in on the day of Relay, the fundraising does not stop once the walking begins. Throughout the day, several methods are used to raise even more money. For example, some teams obtain selling permits and sell at their tents. This year, Palmer Field’s shopping options ranged from cupcakes, to Thriller dance lessons and foot massages. One team even constructed a jail and provided relayers with the opportunity to have anyone at the event arrested for a cost. The person arrested would be put into the tiki-like jail and would receive a plastic cup to hold out for donations. In order to be released from jail, a certain amount of donations would have to be obtained.

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Pictured: The Tiki Jail was a humorous money raising highlight.

While fun events such as basketball tournaments, pie-eating contests and various entertainment filled the day, nighttime brought every participant back to the reality behind all of the fundraising. As soon as the sun began to lower, preparations were being made for this year’s ceremony. Luminarias, which are white paper bags that can be decorated for people who are fighting or have fought cancer, were collected and lined up on each side of the track. They were filled with sand and candles, and the candles were lit. The stage at the front of the field was set up with the word “Hope” written with strings of lights. People slowly began to gather around it.

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Pictured: The event even featured live music.

Around nine on Saturday evening, the ceremony officially took off. Every relayer was handed a candle, each offering a light to their neighbor. The ceremony brought performances from university singing groups, such as the Harmonettes, a group of female students. It also held touching speeches from people who had been affected by cancer in some way.

Perhaps the most touching part of the evening included the end of the ceremony. Relayers had been given the opportunity before Relay to send in names and pictures of those who are fighting or have fought cancer. During the final part of the ceremony, these names and pictures filled a large screen on stage, with suiting songs playing in the background. There were grandparents’ names on the screen, and there were names of children. Students’ pictures came up, and so did those of parents. It was eye-opening to physically see so many different lives affected under one name.

After the luminaria ceremony, a silent lap was taken in order to honor those who had lost their fight. This gave everyone time to reflect on the ceremony and also, to read some of the luminarias. Some were covered in letters forming, “I miss you, Mom” or “In your memory, Gramps”. Others were encouraging, such as one particularly memorable bag, which read in big, black, all-capital letters: “FIGHT FRANK FIGHT”.

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Pictured: Luminaris, bags with candles inside with images honoring those who fought, survived or died of cancer were placed around the track and lit in a special ceremony.

One lap around, and the emotionally exhausting part of the night was over. Almost immediately after the ceremony and silent lap, tents were opened with warm refreshments and most importantly, a free (accepting donations, of course!) chocolate fountain with an assortment of snacks to drench in it. The fun quickly picked up again. In the end, the money raised and the time spent at Relay were very rewarding, both for the American Cancer Society and for each participant.

It should be noted that Relay for Life is not simply an Ann Arbor Event. In fact, it is actually held in numerous other cities. You can find out online when Relay for Life will be held in your community. If you feel the commitment of a team is too great, there are plenty of opportunities to give to the cause at the event. It can be assured that you will never be sorry you attended, in honor of all of those who have fought, are fighting and will continue to fight. Celebrate. Remember. Fight back. Participate.