start planning

Regardless of when a community holds its actual event, the American Cancer Society Relay For Life year runs from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31. The Relay website has now been reset for the new year, which means it’s now open for people – like you – to create and join teams, or to contribute to people who have.

In Bedford County, our Relay For Life event won’t take place until June 5-6 of next year. Why would anyone want to form a team so early?

It’s true that some of our teams may not organize until some time after the first of the year, or even in the spring. But part of the fun of being in Relay is that it’s really a year-round thing. Our best, most successful teams here in Bedford County have fund-raisers at various points throughout the year. That means they have fewer other Relay fund-raisers with which to compete, and that they can do more, raise more, and have more fun.

First, let’s backtrack for those of you who don’t know what Relay is or how it works. Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event – like the one which I mentioned would be June 5-6, 2015, in Bedford County. Relay is not a run – although it started that way – and it’s not any sort of race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. There are many other festival-style aspects to the event. Each team typically operates some sort of concession stand, selling food or T-shirts or pony rides or what have you. There are also special ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the goosebump-inducing Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. In the wee hours of the morning, there are picnic-style games to keep everyone’s energy level up.

So some of the Relay money is raised on Relay night, by the concessions I mentioned in that last paragraph. But most of it is raised in advance of Relay. Teams can raise money in a variety of ways. Individual team members can ask friends or family for money on their own, a process that’s made easier with e-mail and social media tools at the Relay web site. But most teams put heavy emphasis on team fund-raisers – yard sales, bake sales, T-shirt sales, poker runs, pageants, candygram sales, flamingo placement, and any number of other events limited only by the imagination.

That’s why it’s a good idea to form teams early. The earlier you get started, the more and/or better fund-raisers you’ll be able to plan, and the more money you’ll be able to raise.

What happens to that money? Glad you asked.

So, who can form a Relay team? Just about anybody. We have workplace-based teams (some officially sanctioned by the employer, others unofficial), church-based teams, school-based teams, and teams of people who have been brought together because they’re friends and family of a particular cancer patient, past or present. It’s up to you. There’s no official team size, either. You need enough people to have a walker on the track at all times, and probably to operate some simple concession at the same time. But how you divide all that is entirely up to your team, and you can bring in all sorts of friends and family members even if, for example, your company only has a handful of actual salaried employees.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to http://relayforlife.org/bedfordtn for more information. Otherwise, go to http://relayforlife.org and search for the Relay event in your area.

This program has meant an awful lot to me since my mother’s passing from pancreatic cancer in 2010. I am a member of the organizing committee for the Bedford County event. (We’re treated like a Relay team in terms of fund-raising, and we have our own year-round committee fundraisers, but we don’t actually walk during the event because we’re busy putting on the event.) I had thought, up until the past few days, that I might have to miss the 2015 Relay due to a family commitment, and that thought really saddened me. But the conflict has been resolved, and I look forward to being there for all 12 hours (plus setup and teardown) in 2015.

Will you be there with me, at least for part of that time? Form a team, or join an existing team. I know cancer has touched people you love and care about, and maybe it’s touched you as an individual. This is a way you can respond. Our Relay motto is “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back,” and we try to do all three in equal measure during a Relay event. Please think about joining us.

a good weekend

I didn’t post about Relay yesterday because I was focusing on the video.  (I admit it. I was kind of proud of how the video turned out.)

Anyway, I think we were all pleased with how it turned out. We have not yet met our (ambitious) 2014 goal, but the Relay year runs until Aug. 31 and some of our teams still have fund-raisers planned. We had a great turnout Friday night, and everything went smoothly. There were clouds, it was breezy during our setup hours on Friday afternoon, and we worried a little about rain, but the worst we got was a couple of light sprinkles – not even enough to make you put up an umbrella. (Unfortunately, the weather forecast was enough to prevent the rock-climbing wall from arriving in the first place.

My first Relay was in 2011, and since I wasn’t a part of the county organizing committee I didn’t get there until an hour or two before opening ceremonies. That was a 12-hour Relay. My second, in 2012, was an 18-hour Relay, and I had to arrive earlier to help with setup. In both cases, I got sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then caught a second wind and finished well. Last year, I never got that second wind, and I was groggy alll through the morning.

This year, possibly due to the first 5-Hour Energy I’ve ever consumed, but also possibly due to weight loss and more regular exercise, I did much, much better. We went back to a 12-hour format this year, so I didn’t have to stay as long as I did last year. But even taking the different schedule into account, I felt noticeably better and got to enjoy the overnight fun much more this year than last year.

Speaking of fitness, here’s the bad news. Remember that Fitbit that I thought I lost at last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration but which turned up in my car seven months later? Well, I lost it again. And I’m certain it’s not in the car; I remember having it on at Relay, thinking about how many steps I was going to register when I got home and synched it with the computer. Now, I’ll never know.

four days away

Well, we’re on the approach, and the runway lights are gleaming in the distance. It’s only four days away from the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Shelbyville.

I know I’m excited. I hope my Facebook friends haven’t gotten too annoyed with my constant prattling about it. In part, I’ve over-posted simply because I never know, with Facebook’s algorithm, what’s actually going to be seen and what isn’t. If I’ve annoyed you the past couple of weeks, I’m deeply sorry. This is a cause that’s become very special to me in just a few years.

My mother, who had survived breast cancer years earlier, lost a brief but brutal battle with pancreatic cancer in August 2010. In 2011, my church, First United Methodist in Shelbyville, had a Relay team for the first time, inspired by several people (including my mother) who had had cancer.

I had a ball at that first Relay. I discovered that Relay was as much a festival as a charity walk, and I was hooked by the atmosphere and by Relay’s tagline, “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.”

As a result of being involved in Relay as a team member, I met Harriett Stewart, our American Cancer Society staff partner at the time, and Samantha Chamblee, who was our county organizing committee chair at the time. A couple of months later, Harriett invited me to attend an ACS function in Nashville and to do a story on the Hope Lodge. ACS operates a network of Hope Lodge facilities in cities like Nashville with larger or prominent hospitals. Out-of-town cancer patients and caregivers can stay for free at the Hope Lodge while undergoing treatment.

A few weeks after that, Harriett and Samantha came to see me at the newspaper. They asked me to serve on the county organizing committee, and I’ve been there ever since.

In 2013, and again this year, the Times-Gazette has a team. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of the team’s advance fund-raising, but on the night of Relay I won’t be wearing my “Press Power” team shirt, I’ll be wearing my sky blue committee member shirt. Officially, and in terms of any individual fund-raising, I’m a member of the committee team.

Anyway, for those of you who are in Bedford County, please drop by and see us Friday night. Come hungry. Here’s some obnoxious TV pitchman telling you about all of the food items you can purchase:

see you at … the festival

A couple of nights ago, I bought a white display board and drew a map of where the booths will be located at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, which is coming up two weeks from tomorrow.

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If you think about this, what it pretty much means is that the number of teams has been established. We’re not expecting any more teams to sign up. And each of our teams probably has a sufficient number of walkers (although I’m sure none of them would turn down additional help if it were offered).

So why, at this point, am I telling people about Relay, or asking them to attend?

Many people have no idea what Relay For Life is all about. I sure didn’t, five years ago. It’s not a running race – it’s not a race at all. And while there is an organized walking component to it, if only the registered team members, the walkers, show up on Relay night our event will be a huge disappointment.

Relay is more of a festival than a walk. Our event – and the local event in your community, if you’re one of my out-of-town friends or relatives – wants everyone to turn out on Relay night.

Here’s how it works: those teams of walkers who’ve signed up for Relay have been raising money in advance of Relay night, through team fund-raisers and/or individual solicitation. But they’ll also raise money on Relay night. Each team has a “campsite” on the Relay track. That campsite serves two functions: it’s a hangout for that team’s walkers when they’re not on the track, and it’s also a concession stand. Most teams will have some sort of food item, from hamburgers to kebabs to sno-cones to French toast.  This year, our local Relay has an “around-the-world” theme, and many teams have chosen food items associated with a particular city, state or country. Some will also have souvenirs of some sort – T-shirts or awareness ribbons or other tchotchkes. Some will have activities – a climbing wall, a big inflatable slide, or pony rides. (The Times-Gazette’s camp site will have the pony rides.)

Our local Ford dealer will be giving test drives, and donating to Relay for everyone who fills out a contact card.

In addition, there will be elements to the Relay itself that would interest anyone. We start off the evening by letting all of the cancer survivors in attendance take the first lap on the track, followed by all of the caregivers in attendance. Later, in the case of Bedford County, we’ll have a live auction, with amazing gift baskets put together by our teams.

One symbol of Relay is the luminaria, a paper bag, weighted with sand, with a little candle inside. We sell luminaria as a fund-raiser; if you donate $10 to the American Cancer Society, you can dedicate a luminaria to a cancer patient or survivor. You can write a message on the bag yourself, or if you order one online, a volunteer will inscribe the bag for you.

After dark, about 9 p.m. at our Relay, we will have what’s called the luminaria ceremony – it’s a standard part of Relay events all over the world. The luminaria will be lit shortly before 9 p.m., and then, as the ceremony begins, all of the electric lights will be turned off, so that the walking track is lit only by luminaria and torches. The luminaria ceremony incorporates music and recitations and other visual elements to recognize the impact cancer has had on all our lives – patients, caregivers, or just those of us who’ve lost a friend or family member.  The ceremony is different each year, and it’s different from community to community.

After the luminaria ceremony, many of the visiting public go home – although you certainly don’t have to. The rest of us will be up all night. In Bedford County, we have games every hour to keep walkers’ energy up in the wee hours, including a massive game of musical chairs all around the track.

We’ll also have a “Fight Back” ceremony, in which those in attendance are encouraged to take steps to prevent cancer.

Relay is a public event, and we want as many people as possible to show up and take part in the fun. Come hungry, and bring money.

If you can’t come, of course, you can participate by making a contribution to ACS in the name of a particular team or individual participant. Why, here’s a handy example.

If, as mentioned earlier, you’re from out of town, go here and plug in your zip code where it says “sign up for an event” to find a Relay event near you. (You’re not signing up for anything, just looking for the event in your neighborhood.)

Cancer hits all of us. Relay For Life is a way to hit back.

a friendly visit

I’ve been involved in the American Cancer Society Relay For Life for several years now, and one thing I’ve meant to do – and almost done, a few times – was to visit a Relay event in another community, just to see how they do things.

I did that for the first time tonight, traveling down the road to Tullahoma, which is holding its Relay event this weekend.

The first face I saw, in the parking lot, was a familiar one: Terry Chamblee. Terry’s wife Samantha was our Bedford County organizing committee chair when I first got involved with Relay; now she’s an American Cancer Society employee with responsibility for a number of local Relay programs, Tullahoma being one of them. So Samantha was busy tonight.

A little later, one of our current Bedford County co-chairs, Sharon Wachala, showed up – I knew she was planning to attend as well. She was with her husband, and I think this was my first time to meet him.

I was surprised when I got to Tullahoma High School about 5:40 and the signs pointed, not to the football field, but to the gym. The event was actually supposed to have been held on the football field, but today’s weather (rainy this morning, then overcast and threatening for the rest of the day) apparently prompted them to move it indoors. Instead of candles, they were going to use glowsticks inside the luminaria.

The gymnasium worked out fairly well, at least during the two hours I was there, but during the opening ceremonies it was kind of cramped. There was one team in particular with a huge number of members, all of whom were present for the opening ceremonies, and all of whom, at first, congregated in front of their own campsite – making it inconvenient for anyone else to get through and see what concessions that team had to offer.

Speaking of concessions, I was tickled to see that one of the other teams was offering grilled cheese and tomato soup. This is something I’d never think of as a concession item, but once I saw it, I knew it was brilliant. They had two sandwich presses and a dual-burner hot plate. The basic ingredients are inexpensive, and in the case of the tomato soup – a canned Kroger store brand – you only had to open what you needed, and what you didn’t open would keep indefinitely for some other use. If the relay had been held outdoors, and the weather had been cool after sundown, soup and grilled cheese would have been a masterstroke – but even in warmer weather, the grilled cheese by itself would be appropriate as a light, less-filling, entrée or snack.

In general, though, I think our teams have more, and more creative, food options than Tullahoma did. Then again, we have more teams (fewer this year than last year, but still more than Tullahoma). Tullahoma’s relay had 12 participating teams (or at least there were 12 campsites). We have 15 this year.

One team did have some interesting game options, apparently rented from Christopher Equipment in Tullahoma, including a photo booth.

The praise band from Tullahoma First United Methodist’s contemporary service sang for a while, and they were great. There was also a tongue-in-cheek men-in-drag beauty contest, similar to the pageant that one of our teams does as its primary fund-raiser, prior to Relay. In this case, the pageant was a part of Relay night and each of the contestants represented a different Relay team.

I originally planned to stay for the luminaria ceremony, but after a couple of hours, I had seen all of the camp sites, and I kind of wanted to sit down. I’m guessing that if the Relay had been held out on the football field as normal, there would have been a few places for people for people who aren’t affiliated with a team to sit down and take a load off, even if that meant stretching out on the grass. Our Relay is held at Bedford County Ag Center, and there are plenty of places to sit down. Once the Relay is underway, the tent where the cancer survivors gather before the survivor lap is open for anyone to sit down in, and even functions as a sort of food court, because there are tables where you can sit down and enjoy what you’ve bought from the various team booths. If you like, you can even sit in the bleachers up the hill behind the ag center’s meeting room.

There just wasn’t any such place in the gym to sit and and relax. I walked for a while, but then I got kind of restless and decided I wanted to run an errand at Kroger and then go home.

Still, I’m very glad I went. It was fun to see how the Relay experience translates from one community to the next. I want to check out another Relay some time this summer.

Our own Relay will take place three weeks from tonight – 6 p.m. May 30 through 6 a.m. May 31. Bedford County folks, whether you’re on a team or not, I want to see you there. Come on out and enjoy the concessions, activities and entertainment.

I kissed minnie

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Last year, I worked the ticket table for the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” show to benefit the American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

For you out-of-towners, this is a Bedford County tradition going back to the mid-1970s: a revue done in the style of the “Hee Haw” TV show, featuring corny humor and some surprisingly-good local musical performers.

Anyway, in recent years the local Relay For Life organizing committee, of which I am a member, had been responsible for “Hee Haw & Howdy”; this year, it’s being done by one of our individual Relay teams, Strength In Numbers, which was basically formed for that purpose. So the committee didn’t actually have to work the show.

I wanted to go, however, because a) it’s a great show and b) I knew this year’s show would honor Harriett Stewart, our former American Cancer Society staff partner, recently retired. (Harriett has been playing Lulu Roman in the show for several years, and did so again this year.) Judi Burton, Relay’s grand poobah, got me a ticket.

I went and thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the show – but it had been a long week, and I was kind of restless. During intermission, cast members mingled with the audience, and I got to speak to Harriett. But I decided to slip out, quietly, rather than going back into the theater for the second act. Let me be clear – it wasn’t the show; I was just restless.

I was at home, wearing pajama bottoms, when Harriett (who had no idea I’d left early) messaged me to say some of the cast was at Casa Mexicana, and did I want to come join them?

Yes, I did, if for no other reason than to see Harriett, who lives in Lebanon and who we won’t get to see as often now. So I got dressed and headed over to the restaurant. I had a wonderful time. I slipped out again, just after midnight. Letha Marlow, who plays Minnie Pearl in the show and was still in costume at the restaurant, said something, and I responded by posing for a photo planting a kiss on her cheek. It’s probably on Facebook by now.

Harriett did not know the show this year would be in her honor, and I was delighted to be there at the beginning of the show when Judi made that announcement and Harriett teared up. They had to keep her from seeing the programs before the show, since they featured her prominently (including a photo of me and Harriett from one of her retirement celebrations a few weeks ago).

Anyway, it was a nice evening, and I’m glad I decided to get back out and join the others at the restaurant.

a place of hope

I had a wonderful evening with some of my fellow American Cancer Society Relay For Life volunteers serving dinner and handing out gift bags at the Hope Lodge in Nashville.

Hope Lodge 1ACS operates a network of Hope Lodge facilities throughout the country. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, and live more than an hour’s drive away, you and a caregiver can stay at Hope Lodge for free. For a city like Nashville with a lot of hospitals and university research, drawing in patients from a wide geographic area, that can be a godsend for those families, who are already stressed out physically, financially and emotionally. Officially, residents are responsible for their own meals, and there’s a roomy community kitchen on the ground floor with designated storage spaces for each room. (You can’t have food in the rooms, because of the sanitation and insect issues that would cause.) But community groups can volunteer to come in and cook dinner for the residents as a ministry, which is what we did tonight.

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I say “we” as if I had a hand in the cooking. Mostly I was just underfoot, posting photos to Facebook and chatting with some of the patients and caregivers as if I was somebody.

A lot of the money raised by ACS goes to research; that’s as it should be. The more we can do to reduce mortality rates and improve quality of life, the better for everyone. But it means you’re sending your money off to something that’s kind of, well, impersonal. So I was excited when the Relay committee first started talking about a trip to Hope Lodge. I first saw it in 2011, when I came up to Nashville to write a story about it for the Times-Gazette. It’s a way for our volunteers to put faces to the money they’re raising.

This was a fun evening, and a moving one. The patients – and the caregivers, who are under a lot of stress themselves – were wonderful, and all were appreciative, even those who couldn’t or didn’t eat for one reason or another.

One man had driven up on short notice, with little chance to make arrangements, from south Mississippi for his treatment. He used his Android tablet to make a panoramic photo of all of our volunteers working at their various tasks, and was tickled to be able to share it to the Bedford County Relay For Life Facebook page.

We handed out gift bags with items that had been recommended by the ACS staff as potentially helpful or comforting – a sport water bottle, a crossword puzzle book, and so on. There were plenty of gift bags left over, and we left them to be given to any residents who we missed seeing or who check in in the coming days.

If your club or Sunday School class is looking for a project, you might want to look into going up and serving dinner at Hope Lodge.

A great Relay

Well, Relay For Life was a huge success. We had raised $118,000 before Relay night, and by noon on Saturday our total was $146,000, well past our $133,000 goal. And there are one or two teams that still have post-Relay fund-raisers planned, so that total will rise a little bit more before the official end of the Relay For Life year on Aug. 31.

We had a huge crowd Friday night. At the end of the luminaria ceremony, when everyone took the track, it was packed.

I think the first-ever T-G team enjoyed themselves, and both the snow-cones and pony rides appeared to be successful.

So it was a great time. I had a good time personally, but it was physically demanding. My Fitbit Ultra reports that I walked a total of 12.5 miles on Friday and 4.5 on Saturday.  I got to the site at about 11:30 a.m. Friday, not having slept as well or as long as I had intended the night before because of the stupid hair color experiment. (I still have scratched-up places on my forehead and especially behind my right earlobe.)

When I did Relay as a team member in 2011, and as a committee member last year, I got really sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then got a second wind before daybreak. That didn’t really happen this time. I was still sleepy, and if I sat down Saturday morning, even at 8 or 9 or 10, I would start to nod off. My legs hurt and I felt miserable. I’m not sure what happened – other than the fact that I’m 51. I really thought I was in marginally better shape this year than last, and I’d made a point during the three-day Memorial Day weekend to walk farther and longer in hopes of building up my stamina.

We ended a little early on Saturday because of the threat of rain (which turned out to be only a brief shower). I tried to help with teardown but probably left sooner than I should have. I turned to Dawn Simmons and asked, “Would I be a terrible person if I left right now?” She said I wouldn’t, but I felt guilty about it anyway. The other people who were tearing down had been there longer than I had.

I have lots of video. I toyed with going by the paper after church today and editing it, but I ended up getting groceries instead. If I don’t edit the video tonight, I’ll do so tomorrow.