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Whidbey Island unites against cancer | Slideshow

To raise awareness, raise money, honor the fallen and to celebrate the survivors.

About 1,500 attended last weekend’s Relay for Life of Whidbey Island, and each participant’s reasons for attending were unique.

The common denominator, however, was cancer.

Relay for Life of Whidbey Island kicked off at 6 p.m. Friday at North Whidbey Middle School.

The opening was quickly followed by a Survivor and Caregiver Lap. This is a tradition of Relay for life in which people who survived cancer, or cared for someone with cancer, walk around the track once.

Relay for Life is an event that raises awareness about cancer and money that goes toward cancer research, with the end goal being a cure.

Though the relay itself is the main event, this year’s event chairwoman, Leandra Reuble, said that it’s a year-long process. The goal for 2014 is $180,000. So far this year, the committee has raised about $110,000, according to Reuble.

But they’re far from done.

Deadline to make donations toward the 2014 goal is the end of August. Donations can be made by going to relayforlife.org and searching for nearby events, or at an upcoming event, including a rally planned June 25 at the Oak Harbor Elks Club, Oak Harbor’s Fourth of July parade and the Island County Fair.

One of the most emotionally charged moments of Relay for Life is the Luminaria ceremony, held after dusk at the track.

Paper bag luminary tributes bearing the names of those who either died from or who survived cancer are arranged alongside the track.

After a ceremony, candles inside the bags are lit by loved ones. This year, the bags were weighed down by canned food collected as part of a canned food drive.

The food was donated to North Whidbey Help House.

“I got a lot of positive feedback,” said Sheila Martin, who organized the food drive and Luminaria ceremony. “A lot of people were very happy.”

Whidbey General Hospital donated 60 cases of water to the relay to hand out to walkers, according to Reuble. The 35 cases that remained after the event were also donated to Help House.

“They were very grateful, kept giving me hugs and stuff like that. They were kind of overwhelmed,” Martin said. “People went above and beyond.”

Another highlight of the event was the Mr. Relay competition, in which men dressed as “circus-themed gals” to raise donations, according to the Relay for Life website.

There was also the Pantene Beautiful Locks, in which people donated their hair to be used for wigs for cancer patients.

Other Relay events included a scavenger hunt and bone marrow drive.

The marrow drive asked people to sign up to have their cheeks swabbed to determine if they were a donor match for someone. Though the marrow drive usually gets fewer than 20 volunteers over a few hours, Reuble said this year about 80 people signed up over just two and a half hours.

This year’s event was unique because of “the sense of community and the sharing and looking out for each other,” Reuble said.

“It’s the spirit of the people there that make the event,” she said, “and they were wonderful.”

Among the teams of walkers was the Brothers in Arms Riding Club.

Steve “Hoss” Hoffman, now in his seventh or eight year taking part in the event, walked the track carrying the flag. His advice to people? “Come.”

“If anything, whether you participate or not, just standing there cheering the walkers, runners, whatever, cheering them on, it just, it helps,” he said.

“Every little bit helps.”

Hoffman said he began attending Relay for Life events after a friend was stricken with cancer.

Jenny Davies, whose grandmother died from ovarian cancer, said people should participate in Relay for Life to raise awareness and money.

“The more people, the more awareness, the more people, the more money that’s raised, the more money that’s raised, the more cancer research we can do, and that’s really what the end goal is, anyway,” said Davies.

Heidi Plank has served as deejay for local Relay for Life events for a few years. The one thing you can always find is positivity, she said.

“It’s pretty positive here. No matter who they are, they’re positive.”

Her favorite part, though, is the variety of people who attend the fundraiser.

“It really is cool to see all the different kinds of people … in one place for one cause,” she said.

A big draw for the event is “the sense of commitment and community spirit and getting to see what community service is really about,” Reuble said.

For information about fundraising or volunteering for Relay for Life, visit www.relayforlife.org

 

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