Relay lights the way for cancer research

May 18, 2010

By David Hayes

Stacy Strickland’s father was diagnosed with lung carcinoma in 1992, when she was just 16. Six weeks later, he succumbed to the disease.

“It was a tough thing for anyone to go through,” Strickland said. “Especially for a 16-year-old.”

It would take her 18 years to find an outlet in the community to help support the American Cancer Society.

“Ironically, I found about the Relay for Life from an article in The Issaquah Press,” she said.

She joined the next year. She has since been a team captain, a planning team member and is event co-chair this year.

The concept for the Relay for Life is fairly simple. Form a team, with each member tasked to raise at least $100 for walking around the track for an 18-hour period.

“The 18 hours represents the typical period of cancer treatment where patients frequently have sleepless nights,” Strickland explained. “At the beginning of the event, you feel the adrenaline rush and then by morning you’re exhausted, but still have the feeling of ‘I did it.’”

Strickland’s named squad of walkers is Team TBD — they couldn’t come up with a team name in time and put the abbreviation for “to be determined” and it just stuck. They hope to exceed the minimum requirements and raise $5,000.

Sara Akre sits by a luminaria during the 2009 Issaquah Relay for Life held at Skyline High School. It was the third year she had made one in honor of her late grandparents, Charlie and Mary Modica. By Adam Eschbach

Last year, they were one of 80 teams that participated, with about 60 percent of those high school and middle school students. They raked in $220,000, a number Strickland hopes to achieve again this year.

“The economy remains tighter,” she said. “So many have been touched by cancer, but the bad economic times don’t care about cancer. So, it’s so refreshing to see how many still provide donations.”

While a member of each team must be walking the track at all times, everyone in the community is invited to walk the opening Survivor Lap.

Activities throughout the day keep the spirits high — a DJ from Action Entertainment spins the tunes, giving way now and then for karaoke sessions. There are also fruit eating contests, a silent auction and a “cutathon.” Last year, Strickland said enough ponytails were cut and donated to create four wigs.

But the evening’s highlight is usually the Luminary Ceremony. Participants share their tales of how cancer has affected them or their family. Strickland was asked to speak about her father at her second relay. But she did so before seeing the pinnacle of the ceremony — the lighting of the luminaries. Personalized paper bags, dedicated to a family member or friend touched by cancer, surround the track and a candle is lit inside in their memory.

“As I was getting closer to my dad’s luminary alphabetically, I was more sad looking at all the others, because of the time that had passed since losing my dad,” Strickland recalled. “To see so many other names, I felt the pain of their loss more than my own.”

This will be the second year the event is held at Skyline High School while Issaquah High School is under renovation. Strickland said the Spartans’ track has proven to be an ideal venue with plenty of parking and concessions. The only drawback is it’s not covered.

“So, our fingers are crossed that it doesn’t rain,” she said.

Even if it does, Strickland said she knows spirits will be too high to be dampened.

David Hayes: 392-6434, ext. 237, dhayes@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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