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Relay for Life helps with fight against cancer

Jan Schuette, left, Arlington Relay for Life team development and recruitment chair, and Kay Duskin, chair of publicity and media, look at purple items in the window of Favorite Pastime in downtown Arlington. Purple is the official color of the American Cancer Society. - Adam Rudnick
Jan Schuette, left, Arlington Relay for Life team development and recruitment chair, and Kay Duskin, chair of publicity and media, look at purple items in the window of Favorite Pastime in downtown Arlington. Purple is the official color of the American Cancer Society.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — Everybody has a story to tell about cancer.

At first glance, Arlington resident Jan Schuette’s may appear to be one of the sad ones — in 1990, her niece, Jesse Kendall Schuette, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

She was 10 years old. Five years later, she died.

But it’s what Schuette and a committee of volunteers have done during the past few months that will give Schuette’s story a happy ending.

Organizers for Arlington’s Relay for Life so far have signed up 97 teams — more than 1,000 participants total — and have raised more than $94,000 for cancer research.

Not bad for a first-year event, Schuette said

“We started in January during our kick-off. From there, it’s taken on a life of its own,” said Schuette, the team development and recruitment chair. “Relays just don’t get this much support in their first year. The town of Arlington has really stepped up.”

A lofty goal

This year marks the first time Arlington has held a Relay for Life — an 18-hour march during which community members can honor, remember and celebrate the lives of cancer survivors and victims.

Arlington’s relay takes place on June 4-5 at John C. Larson Stadium at the high school.

Schuette said that Arlington residents had been taking part in Stanwood’s Relay for Life for a number of years.

“We decided ‘Why are we going to Stanwood when we could do it right here?’” she said.

A committee of volunteers was formed in 2009 with an initial goal of signing up 30 teams. Their monetary goal was to raise $50,000.

Less than a year later, those goals have grown dramatically, said Kay Duskin, Arlington relay chair of publicity and media.

“We’ve been constantly adjusting our goals,” Duskin said. “A lot of our fundraisers are still going on now, so we just keep adding to it.”

Schuette said that the record for a first-year Relay for Life team was set in New York. That event raised approximately $170,000.

“We may get pretty close,” she said.

How it works

Opening ceremonies for the Arlington Relay for Life begin at 6 p.m. on June 4. Shortly after comes the survivor and caregiver lap, during which participants with cancer and their caregivers walk around the track.

That first lap, along with a 10 p.m. luminaria ceremony, are often the most emotional, Schuette said.

At that time, attendees can purchase paper bags with candles inside. Each bag represents a person who has either been lost to cancer or a tribute to cancer survivors.

But not all of the relay is somber.

Certain laps are designated as the “pajama lap” or “gender bender lap.”

“Little kids love the pajama lap,” Duskin said.

Teams are required to have at least one member on the track at all times, so many oftentimes take turns until the relay concludes at 11 a.m. on June 5.

Community steps up

Despite a still-struggling economy, area businesses have also gotten in on the event by holding fundraisers or promotions before the event has taken place.

Booths and vendors will also be set up around the track during the relay for community members to grab a bite to eat or get a massage, Schuette said. Many of those merchants donate a portion of their proceeds to Relay for Life.

Approximately 30 businesses have even put together teams that will walk in the relay.

“What they’re doing to raise money has been really ingenious,” Schuette said.

But it’s the community and organization-based teams are what have really made Relay for Life in Arlington a success, she said.

Sporting team names such as “A-Town mamas on a mission,” “Cancer crushers” and “Breast Friends Forever,” each team’s individual members have somebody that they know who’s been touched by cancer, Duskin said.

“They all have stories behind their groups,” she said.

For more information about Arlington Relay for Life, visit www.relayforlife.org.

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