On the evening of June 24, the streets of downtown Ogden served as a memorial to loved ones who have passed away. White paper bags decorated with names and prayers for recently or long-departed souls were lit up on the sidewalks as a reminder of cancer, the illness that has struck so many families. These bags, bearing words such as “rest in peace, April, we miss you,” were part of a luminary ceremony during Relay for Life, held to raise money for cancer research and cancer awareness.
Weber State University sorority Delta Chi Omega helped to plan this event as part of their community service. Largely due to its input, this was one of the biggest years for Ogden’s Relay for Life.
There were dozens of booths with people raising money to fight cancer. One of these booths was run by the Daily family, who called themselves “Team Daily.” Jennifer Christensen, leader of Team Daily, had a personal reason for participating in the event. Her brother, who had previously been in the military, was diagnosed with cancer a year and a half after returning home. Cancer took his life, as well as the life of Christensen’s uncle. Christensen said that she decided to participate in Relay for Life to make people aware that cancer is so prevalent and that people need to raise money to support the cause.
“It’s been bittersweet,” Christensen said. “It’s brought back painful memories, but has brought others joy and hope.”
Melinda Stoor is the volunteer co-chair for the American Cancer Society, the organization responsible for Relay for Life. This was Stoor’s 10th year being involved with Relay for Life, as well as almost her 10th year since she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She volunteered for the American Cancer Society just after finishing her chemotherapy. Stoor said that Ogden’s Relay for Life was helpful for her and other cancer survivors in finding support from one another.
“No matter how bad you had it, you can look to your right or left and see someone who had it worse,” Stoor said.
Relay for Life is partly a celebration of the lives of the survivors and a memorial of those who have passed away from cancer. According to Stoor, the luminaria ceremony is the only time the volunteers are allowed to cry.
Second volunteer co-chair JoLyn Blechert had no ties to cancer before joining the cause. Three months after volunteering, Blechert’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. They were married a few months ago, after dating for eight years.
“They probably will not be able to celebrate their one-year marriage anniversary,” said Stoor during the opening ceremony.
Stoor and Blechert are not the only members of the American Cancer Society to be struck by cancer. Jamie Riccobono, community relationship manager, said that she started volunteering because her aunt and her grandmother both had cancer. Her grandmother died in 2007 after a 13-year battle with cancer.
“I don’t believe she lost her battle, because I continue to fight it for her,” Riccobono said.
One of the largest and most symbolic traditions of the Relay for Life is the survivor walk. More than 200 cancer survivors came together in downtown Ogden, each with a matching purple shirt and purple balloon and their own battle story to tell. After making a wish and symbolically setting their balloons free into the sky, the survivors walked a victorious circuit around the amphitheater.
One of the survivors, MaryAnne Yates, spoke of her struggle with breast cancer. She had ignored the lump for a long time, and by the time it was stinging and burning enough for her to go to the doctor, it was the size of a small tennis ball. She had a surgery that removed the lump and some breast tissue on Dec. 3, but didn’t have a full mastectomy. Yates reacted well to the radiation and chemotherapy and has now been cancer-free for months. Yates said she wishes to raise awareness about the risks of cancer and hopes that raising awareness will prompt more people to go get tested, even if they think they’re healthy.