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At some point after sundown, a special luminaria ceremony is held. All of the electric lights are turned off, leaving the track lit only by the luminaria (and/or similar tribute flames like torches or sky lanterns). Often, this is accompanied by a dramatic reading touching on the themes raised by cancer – love, struggle, hope, loss and survival. It can be a deeply-moving experience, I promise you.

There’s also a “fight back” moment during the event, at which participants commit to do what they can to fight cancer, through lifestyle changes and screening tests like colonoscopies and mammograms. (I turned 50 this  year, and I’ll be fasting tomorrow for a colonoscopy on Monday.)

And then there’s also a lot of fun, especially in the wee hours of the morning when organizers try to keep everyone’s energy level high. We play an enormous game of musical chairs, with the chairs located all around the perimeter of the walking track. There may be live entertainment, or an auction, or other fun activities.

Here’s some video that I made at our 2012 Relay here in Bedford County, to give  you a little of the flavor of the event:

This is something that you and your group should be involved in. As I participate, I remember my mother, my co-worker Danette Williams, Phillip Oliver from church, and many others lost to cancer, even as I celebrate survivors like Vickie Hull or current cancer patients like Don Ladd or Mary Margaret Willems. Your world has been touched by cancer too, I can almost guarantee it.

The American Cancer Society uses the money raised for research – life-saving research, which has been making great strides for decades. But there’s still a long way to go. ACS also has patient services like Hope Lodge and Look Good, Feel Better, and advocates for causes like having screening tests covered by insurance.

Go to the Relay For Life website now and find the Relay event in your community. And talk to your church, your co-workers, your friends about it. You’ll have a great time, and for a great cause. Relay’s slogan is “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back,” and this is a chance to do all three.

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John Carney is a journalist, a certified United Methodist lay speaker, a veteran of foreign and domestic short-term mission trips, and author of a self-published novel, Soapstone.