By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News
Over the course of 14 hours on Saturday, April 7, residents were given the chance to celebrate Relay for Life at Iowa Wesleyan University?s student center. The event was a chance for people to honor loved ones, celebrate survivors and keep hope alive.
The day began at 6 a.m. with a pancake breakfast that served over 150 people, according to lead event coordinator Danielle Davidson. Davidson has been involved in Relay for Life for the past 23 years, in honor of her aunt who passed from cancer. Her aunt tried several experimental treatments in hopes of finding a cure, but to no avail. Because she cannot participate medically, Davidson says she donates her time instead. ?I?m finishing what she started,? she says.
The day continued in Ruble Arena with a family fair where children were encouraged to play games and win prizes while participants walked on the track above, raising money for their teams.
Teams were formed by families, friends, and even some of Mt. Pleasant?s employers, such as Wal-Mart. ?I think it?s great, and I?m already doing it,? she explains. ?I?m really glad the organization is behind us.?
The company vowed if 50 employees would walk for a combined total of 250 hours, they would donate $5,000. For every additional 25 hours they walked, Wal-Mart donated an additional $250.
?Danielle does 150 of those 250 hours by herself,? said Robert Critser, a co-worker of Davidson?s. Critser has been coming to events for eight years in honor of his mother whom he lost to breast cancer. In his first seven years, Critser walked 115 miles by himself, saying the walking for him, is therapeutic. ?It?s how I spend time with my mom,? he explains.
Just before lunch, the 70 survivors present were asked to wear purple shirts, and take a victory lap. Friends and family walked beside them as Davidson read their names from a list and spectators watched from below.
?It?s a beautiful program that they have,? said Thomasa Alaniz. ?It?s a reminder that God has us here another year.? Alaniz is a 20-year survivor of bladder cancer and attends the event every year. This year she led the survivors in their walk by holding the survivors banner.
Ethel and Paul Tinder also walked the track together. Ethel is a 12-year survivor of breast cancer and walks in honor of her two sisters whom she lost to cancer. ?There?s so many that don?t get a chance,? she explains.
When Ethel was diagnosed, her husband Paul was a bus driver and left his job early every day to accompany her to all of her appointments. Excluding weekends, the couple traveled to Iowa City every day for 17 weeks. ?We?ve been blessed enough to have great insurance,? she said.
Paul says when he first learned she was diagnosed, he was devastated but soon saw it as a blessing that she was still alive and they were able to spend time together. ?It makes you have a sense of appreciation for life,? he says.
Karla Lance of Mt. Pleasant also volunteers for a personal reason. Lance lost her mother to cancer in 2000 and has been volunteering ever since. ?What we try to say is cancer doesn?t stop,? she explains. ?There?s still cancer out there and it?s still affecting people you know and care about.? Lance has been dedicated to the cause for nearly the last two decades. ?As long as I can, I?m going to keep working on it,? she says.
In the afternoon, bingo and a guided painting session were held. Bingo was led by members of Mt. Pleasant High School?s silver chord program. If the students reach a required minimum of 40 volunteer hours every year of school, they receive a silver chord to wear at their graduation ceremony. Lexi Tropeano is a sophomore at MPHS and has already reached 140 volunteer hours. ?We love helping out at Relay for Life,? she says.
Lisa McDowell led a painting session where participants painted the word ?hope? and fireflies, which are a symbol of light.
?Everybody has been touched by it, and everybody knows somebody with it,? she explained. McDowell has been teaching painting classes for the last five years.
Overall, Davidson estimated around 600 people participated in the event that day. For her, the most rewarding part is the 350 luminary bags that are dedicated in honor or memory of someone who has or had cancer. ?I love to see our (in) honor have outgrown our (in) memory,? she says.