For cancer survivors like Rhonda Barlow, Relay for Life is much more than a community event. Sure, there are plenty of good times attached to the annual activity, as friends and colleagues team up to raise money through parties or pledges.
But the meaning and significance go far beyond that. It’s an evening where cancer patients and survivors feel the love and support of the community surrounding them. It’s an opportunity too for those who have lost important people in their lives to honor their memory.
“The luminary ceremony is, of course, very special because it honors those who are fighting or who have won their battle, as well as those who have passed. It’s just very special,” Barlow said.
It is also a chance for the community to collectively push back against the devastating disease. And it’s making a serious impact. Scanning the list of team totals for the annual Relay for Life, it’s clear that the community has invested time and dollars in the cause. Barlow’s team is the top ranked fundraiser. Titled Survive and Thrive, it is made up of cancer survivors, and has raised more than $26,000.
“Our team is made up of members who have had different types of cancer but we did raise a lot of it at our Breast Cancer Fashion Show. We’ve also sold the most luminaries,” she said.
The members of Survive and Thrive are looking forward to being a part of this year’s event, slated for 6-11 p.m. April 26 at Golden Isles Church of God in Brunswick.
This Relay for Life will be the area’s 25th anniversary. It’s significance is not lost on this year’s co-chairs, Peggy Tuten and Joni Bennett.
Tuten, in fact, has been involved with the event since its inception. Not only has she been part of the organizational effort, she has also been present as a cancer survivor.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery in March right before the first event at the track at the college in May,” she said.
At that time — 1994 — Relay for Life events were 24 hours. Teams would tag members to continuously walk around a course for the cause. Tuten has been a mainstay since, from gathering her first team — Peg’s Legs — to sitting on the committees, and she knows it is a key part of the community.
While she’s seen a lot of changes along the way, Tuten sees this year as a way to breathe new life into the fundraiser.
“No one really ever ‘beats’ cancer until we have a cure. We hope to revitalize it some and let people know that it, as an entity, hasn’t gone away. We want to stand up and roar,” Tuten said.
“The committee has worked really hard, and Joni has worked really hard. We hope it will be a really good event this year.”
Bennett is equally excited about celebrating the history and tradition of Relay this year. She notes that there will be a lot of new activities to engage attendees.
“It is an hour shorter, but we are going to have all sorts of things this year. There is going to be food, my gosh, so much food. It’s going to be the place to eat ... we will have several restaurants with everything from barbeque to burgers to shrimp and lots of sweets,” she said.
“Our theme is ‘live out the life’ so will have tropical, non-alcoholic margaritas and smoothies.”
For children, there are plenty of exciting activities including a pay-to-play bounce house, giant slide, a rock climbing wall, face painting, crafts and games.
Entertainment will be provided by local bands, Roy Gentry and the Hired Guns, Pawn Shop Junkies as well as a band from New Life Sanctuary.
“There are going to be raffles, a smash car and new too is a tug-o-war,” Bennett said. “We will have a team of superheroes that will go up against anyone who wants to take them on.”
That’s right — Captain America, Batman, Superman and friends are also joining the cause.
“They will go up against adult teams or kids and adult teams. All they have to do is offer a donation of any amount. They can register that day too. The super heros will also be taking pictures with the kids and giving autographs,” she said.
“Then they will be entered into a raffle for tickets to the new ‘Avengers’ movie which comes out next Friday.”
The event will center around celebrating life and having fun, as well as raising funds to find a cure. So far, Relay for Life Glynn County has raised $90,000 going into the event.
“We are so proud of these teams and of this event. It’s just going to be super cool. There will be so much to do. The only thing we won’t have is an ATM, so everyone needs to bring cash,” Bennett said with a laugh.
“It’s going to be a great time to get out, shout and have fun ... and celebrate the victories over the ravages of cancer.”