COLUMN: Relay for Life of Western PBC is poignant, important — even fun

Let me tell you why I Relay.

I first participated in Relay for Life in 2014, two years after cancer killed my father. He was 54 years old. It was unfair. I wanted a way to fight back.

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My sister and best friend had taken on massive roles with the Relay for Life in Palm Beach Gardens — now the Relay for Life of Northern Palm Beach County. They had talked with me about getting involved, about the poignancy of the event and the satisfaction of the work.

It took me another year after Dad’s death to have the courage to take on a role not just with a team, but with the event’s committee. As a volunteer committee member, I quickly learned just how incredible the American Cancer Society is.

That is why I encourage you to Relay, and you have an opportunity to try it this weekend. The Relay for Life of Western Palm Beach County is from 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach. The event will bring together 74 teams from across the western communities and West Palm Beach. Each team keeps at least one member walking the track at all times — a reminder that cancer never sleeps.

RELATED: The unique way Royal Palm Beach High raises money for Relay for Life

I asked American Cancer Society community development manager Lisa Noel, whose Relay participation predates her time with ACS, about her favorite parts of Relay for Life. First she said the box car race: “It’s so humorous,” she said, laughing. Participants load cancer survivors into their “cars,” then make a dash for the finish line, also known as “treatment.” The event represents the Road to Recovery program.

“I’m laughing but I start to get choked up,” Noel said of the event. “I see these kids and they’re just running and then I think of how important that program is.”

Then she paused. “Then there’s the luminaria,” she said. People pay a few bucks, in this case $5, to decorate a paper bag in honor of cancer survivors and victims. The bags are filled with sand with a candle or glowstick placed inside. After dark, volunteers line the track with the glowing bags, and thousands of people pack the track for a silent lap.

“They have thousands of luminarias this year,” Noel said, adding that this year’s luminaria ceremony begins at 9 p.m. “It’s just overwhelming. You look back and you see thousands of people on the track and all of the bags and you think, wow.”

RELATED: Volunteers gain perspective on life as they drive cancer patients to treatment

Each year, I decorate bags for my father, grandmother, aunt, cousins and more. My luminaria count last year was seven.

Involvement goes beyond donating money. Just as easily, you can go to this free event to show support for the thousands of people there who have been touched by cancer. Find a friend who has a team, and offer to walk a lap with them. Bring bottles of water for the hard-working volunteer crew.

You can even dress up to take part in the themed “spirit laps” — including the box car race at 6 p.m., a toga lap at 8 p.m. and a disco lap at 10 p.m. There will be free concerts, with former contestant on “The Voice” Michaela Page performing at 2:30 p.m. and local bands Expressways to the Stars at 6:10 p.m. and Swamp Dogs at 7:10 p.m.

Also, thank the volunteers. The fundraising work they do helps support the American Cancer Society’s community programs locally, while a portion also goes to research at the national level.

In Palm Beach County, the American Cancer Society provides free rides for cancer patients to treatment through the Road to Recovery program. The organization offers free wigs for people undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and free post-mastectomy bras for women who have fought breast cancer.

The themes of Relay for Life include celebrate and remember. But it also is a way to fight back. And every time I take a lap, I know I’m doing it for my father.

Why do you Relay?

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