Walking in Honor. Walking in Remembrance.
Relay for Life is a community-based fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. Each year, more than 5,000 local relays take place in more than 20 countries around the world. They are not merely fundraisers. Each is an event full of physical and emotional support for cancer survivors and their caregivers. It is a celebration of life and of lives well-lived.
Beginning on the evening of June 21 and continuing into June 22, the 2019 Augusta County Relay for Life was held at August Expo. Augusta Health was the presenting sponsor, and almost $14,000 was raised that night, bringing the event total to more than $120,000. Augusta Health's team was 85 people strong, with about 20 to 40 people participating at any given hour.
All who participate are—or have a connection to—someone with cancer. But what connects them to the Relay? Each story of connection is as unique as the person who walks. Two of the Augusta Health employees who helped organize this year's event share their stories of why they are connected to the Relay:
Caroline has just worked in Augusta Health's Human Resources Department for a few months. Her mother, Judy Cook, worked as a nurse at Augusta Health from when it opened in 1994 until 2011, when she passed away from cancer.
"My mom loved being a nurse," says Caroline. "She loved working here at Augusta Health and what the hospital stands for—helping people and helping the community. I know that she'd be happy knowing I work here now, too."
"She was a psych nurse and an amazing person," adds Caroline. "She was a fiery redhead with a great sense of humor, very active and the picture of health. She had little sayings like 'It's better to laugh than to cry' and 'It's better to wear out than to rust out'. She was first diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2005, had radiation treatments at Augusta Health and was cancer free for more than five years. Her cancer returned as lymphoma. She was diagnosed again on January 1, 2011 and died just a few weeks later on February 18, 2011. She was only 67 years old."
"To see someone like her—the strongest and most active woman I've ever known—to go down so hard and so fast to cancer just makes you realize how fragile we all are," adds Caroline.
"Relay for Life is very personal for me," says Caroline. "We didn't have the ending we'd hoped for with my mom, but I appreciate the time we had. We're especially grateful for the extra five years we received after her first diagnosis. I'm involved with Relay for Life because I want to help others who are going through what I've been through. Seeing people recover from cancer fills me with joy, but I don't want any more families to go through the experience. I want a cure for cancer."
Sandy, a nurse in Augusta Health's Operating Room, became involved with Relay for Life in 2002 when she finished treatments for breast cancer. Recently she discovered her cancer has returned and she is in treatment again. So her commitment to Relay for Life has become even stronger.
"The whole night is special," says Sandy. "To see the number of people out there—to see the number involved in the Survivor Lap—it's just astounding."
"Relay for Life is very important because it's raising money for both cancer research and for programs and services for patients. My daughter works in clinical research in oncology. She sees the new drugs, the successes and the advancements," adds Sandy. "The money raised for cancer research is all a part of that."
"I can't NOT do it," Sandy says of Relay for Life. "I do it because my daughter and my niece have a horrible family cancer history. I do it because I have too many friends I've lost to cancer. I do it because I want to make treatment better for the next person after me."
"Last year, I had three friends diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and all three were given just months to live," she adds. "But they are all in remission. I can see the change that's been possible. I like to think that maybe the money we've raised all these years has helped make this happen."
Donations for Augusta County's Relay for Life continue through August. To make a donation, visit the Relay for Life of Augusta County or mail donations to the American Cancer Society, 2050 Langhorne Road, Suite 201, Lynchburg, VA 24501.