Taking strides: Relay for Life gears up again to fight cancer

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

This year marks Lisa Cook's 18th Relay for Life. The death of her grandfather from lung cancer inspired her first walk. The death of her mother at age 56, also from lung cancer, in 1995 spurred her on even further.

Cancer has continued to affect her life.

"Unfortunately, I've had many friends that have been battling cancer, anything from breast cancer to leukemia. And my father is a 7-year-survivor of prostate cancer," Cook said.

"Hopefully we're making strides towards more survivors because the money we raise goes towards research and education towards all the cancers."

Cook is the chairperson for the 2011 Rockdale County Relay for Life, which had its kick-off last week. Relay for Life is a nationwide effort in which teams of people spend an evening walking around a track to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

"This is a huge fundraiser for a wonderful cause. They do outreach and have treated more cancers and cured more cancers. In our lifetime, I'd like to have no cancer at all," Cook said.

Rockdale County's Relay for Life takes place from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. April 29 at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. Newton County also has a Relay for Life set for the same date and time at the Church at Covington.

Relay for Life teams are often comprised of people from the same church, workplace, school or neighborhood. Family and friends also join together to participate. Though it's not required, each person is expected to raise at least $100.

Last year, Rockdale Relay for Life generated $154,000 through 648 participants. Newton Relay for Life raised $237,000 with 1,000 people contributing their fundraising efforts.

In addition to raising money through donations, teams also sell items and services at the relay, such as food, drinks, crafts, face painting and raffles. The relay evenings also feature entertainment on a main stage.

"You walk some but then we may do karaoke or dancing on the stage. There is a lot of social interaction, even at 2 or 3 in the morning, there's someone out there walking," Cook said.

Each relay event features a survivor lap, an opportunity for those who have survived their battles with cancer to take a symbolic victorious walk around the track together. It's the highlight of Relay for Cook.

"I really enjoy the survivor lap and the survivor activities and to see that they're living through these issues," Cook said.

Since her first relay, Cook's family has grown to include her husband and two children, who accompany Cook every year.

"It's a family event and everybody in the community is pretty much out there," Cook said. "It's family fun that you can bring your kids to."

Mike Kessler started participating in Rockdale Relay for Life about five years ago. His first two years, he worked the event as security. A diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer compelled him to become much more involved.

"It made it that much more personal as we're dealing with it," said Kessler, who was treated for the cancer and is now starting his second year of remission.

Kessler said cancer does not discriminate between men or women, and he encourages everyone to join Relay for Life.

"I'm fighting to make sure that we raise money, get awareness out there and help folks," he said.

Upcoming Relay events include: for Rockdale, a team captain meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at Rockdale Career Academy and a survivor brunch on March 26 at Rockdale Career Academy; and for Newton, a team captain meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, in Eastside High School's media center and a survivor dinner in February.

For more information about Rockdale Relay for Life, call Lisa Cook at 770-354-7443, e-mail lcook@rockdale.k12.ga.us or call Tiffany Dollar of the American Cancer Society at 404-219-6057.

For more information about the Newton Relay for Life, call Victoria Patrick of the American Cancer Society at 706-549-4893 or e-mail victoria.patrick@cancer.org.