Annual Relay for Life spreads awareness

Relay for Life March
Hundreds of participants walked the track at Ashland’s Relay for Life event over the weekend in memory and support of those with cancer. Photo by Emma Ikstrums/The Siskiyou

More than 700 people take part in annual cancer fundraiser

The white paper bags glowed softly from within, creating little points of light in the darkness as the last bagpipe notes of “Amazing Grace” faded into the wind.

Rustling softly in the evening breeze, the bags were arranged in a circle around the track field at Ashland Middle School, lit from within by a little electric candle. Each bag had a name on it – “Mom”, “Dad”, “Grandma”, “Lil Sis”, “Cousin”.

The bags are called Luminaria, and honor the memory of someone who has contracted cancer. While some Luminaria celebrate the survival of a relative or friend, many more honor those who lost the fight.

The Luminaria Ceremony was one of the more poignant events during the Relay For Life, a 24-hour fundraising event for the American Cancer Society held on the track field at Ashland Middle School on Saturday.

“The power of Relay is that everybody out here cares about somebody,” said Debi Svaren, Community Relationship Manager for the American Cancer Society. “That’s what brings us together, what brings us together as a family.”

“We’re also here to celebrate the people who are here,” she said. “We celebrate, we remember, and we fight back.”

“ ‘Celebrate, Remember, and Fight Back’ was the slogan for this year’s Relay for Life in Ashland, which had more than 700 participants and raised roughly $56,000, according to Svaren.

The Relay for Life is the main fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, where participants form teams and walk a relay for 24 hours, trading off every few hours to ensure that at one least team member is always on the track.

“Relay for Life is the cornerstone fundraiser for the American Cancer Society,” said Svaren. “It started in 1985 when one doctor walked a track for 24 hours to bring attention to cancer and cancer survivors. And from that, the Relay was born.”

In addition to the relay, the event included three live bands, a movie theater, hula-hoop contest, scavenger hunt, cupcake walk, and many other activities to keep the teams awake through the night.

One team was led by Casey Swanson, a junior at SOU. Aptly called “Casey’s Team,” the group started fundraising in November, eventually raising over $1,800 by sending out emails to family and friends asking for donations.

“I’ve been doing Relay since high school,” said Swanson. “Since my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.”

“This is basically a celebration of all the teams’ hard work,” she said. “I do it to get people involved. We do it for a cure, for what it represents to us.”

“I like the relay because we’re all different people, and we’re all coming together because of a common cause,” said Mariah Cox, another participant. “We relay for those who can’t.”

“It’s hard,” said Lisa Hydorn, a member of Cox’s team. “You got to find the positive in it. The positive is raising money for the cause.”

“I got involved with Relay because I was losing my mom to pancreatic cancer,” said Svaren. “If you have been touched by cancer in any way, you are encouraged to attend. We are out here so that nobody has to go through what my mother had to go through.”

Relay team
Teams at Relay for Life walk for 24 hours straight, always having at least one team member on the track. Photo by Emma Ikstrums/The Siskiyou


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