Annual fundraising event will take place June 7 at Delaware State University.
In 2013, an estimated 1.6 million Americans will develop some form of cancer; of these approximately one-third will die of the disease.
In the state of Delaware, it is estimated 5,370 new cases will develop; the state will suffer approximately 1,940 deaths from various forms of cancer during the year.
But cancer is not the automatic death sentence it once was. Ongoing research, funded by governments and private concerns throughout the world has continued to push mortality numbers back.
But not entirely. As work goes on to research cures for the more than 125 different forms of the disease, efforts to raise money to pay for that research also continues.
The Central Delaware Relay for Life is one of those efforts. Planned for June 7 at Delaware State University, the Relay is a unique form of grassroots fundraising: it's held overnight around a running track which people have pledged to walk continually for up to 12 hours.
"We use it to raise awareness of cancer and to fundraise for cancer research," said Brendon Condon, community chairman for Central Delaware Relay for Life.
Teams of people will take turns on the track, and when not walking will camp out there overnight, Condon said. It's also a chance for cancer survivors and their families, as well as those who want to help, to network with each other in a family-friendly atmosphere.
It's a community effort for which 28 teams have already signed up; as of press time, those teams have brought along pledges of more than $18,000.
"People today would be very hard pressed to find someone in their family who has not been affected by cancer," Condon said. He includes his mother in that equation, calling her his motivation for taking part in the annual event.
Last year's event raised more than $75,000, Condon said. They're looking to bring in at least $85,000 this year.
"It's one of those things where if you're outside looking in, you don't really realize how far reaching it is in the community unless you take part," he said. Condon attended his first Relay for Life five years ago as a spectator; he entered his own walking team the following year.
As with prior years, this Relay will kick off with a special event, the Survivor's Lap. The track will be filled with people wearing special purple T-shirts showing they've either beaten the disease or are still under treatment.
"When you see how many people are walking, who are cancer-free or those who are still fighting it, it's one of our biggest motivational moments," Condon said. "It's a touching ceremony. When you see those people, you know where all your time and money has gone.
"It really puts it all into perspective."
Other activities continue throughout the night. The Luminaria Ceremony takes place after the sun has gone down and all lights in the DSU stadium are extinguished. Paper bags, personalized with the names of cancer patients or survivors will be set up; when a candle inside is lit, they will form a blazing circle around the track to memorialize those who have been lost, those who have fought cancer and those who still battle the disease. Those in the stands will hold up candles to spell out HOPE, later rearranging the letters to spell out CURE.
There also will be a zumba lap, with people dancing and exercising as they walk, a carnival lap with the walkers dressed up in costumes as well as just about anything else that can be imagined.
"We try to keep it as lively as possible," Condon said.
The Relay for Life can trace its roots back to 1985 when Tacoma, Wash., colorectal surgeon Dr. Gordon Klatt embarked on a fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society's research and education programs. A marathon runner at the time, he spent 24 hours walking the track at the University of Puget Sound, raising $27,000 for the effort.
While he was walking those 83 miles, Klatt came up with the idea for the Relay, which started the following year.
"Many people picked up on the idea and my vision of a cancer-free world initially," he said.
The idea caught on as a grassroots effort, and 28 years later there are 5,200 events throughout the United States that raise a combined $400 million annually, he said. Relay for Life events also take place in 23 foreign countries.
Ironically, Klatt himself developed stomach cancer in 2012. He had surgery to remove his stomach and has completed a course of chemotherapy.
"I've lost a lot of weight, but I am cancer-free, as far as we know at this time," he said. "I'm still seeing patients every day and working five days a week."
Klatt estimates about two-thirds of cancer patients eventually beat the disease, but says that is not enough.
"To get to three-thirds, we need to keep Relaying and supporting research and education worldwide," he said.
There still is time for interested people to form teams and to sign up for the Central Delaware Relay for Life, Condon said.
"This helps bring out people from all different areas of the community that you might not hear about otherwise," he said. "It's also a great opportunity to meet new people and see how they've all been affected by cancer.
"The Relay for Life is one of those things where you don't know what you'll get out of it," Condon said. "But you'll meet people from all walks of life and you'll get to see what other people are going through and how they're getting through it."