The Anoka County Fairgrounds was filled with the sights and sounds of food, music, tears and laughter all night long in an effort to raise money for cancer research through the American Cancer Society at the Anoka Area Relay for Life June 22.The opening ceremony honored the 27 teams present, along with event sponsors and present cancer survivors.
Marlene Goble of the American Cancer Society thanked the event sponsors and encouraged participants with the news that they had already raised more money than last year’s total.
The Relay for Life Committee co-chairperson Janet St. Louis said around $53,500 had been raised by the morning of the relay this year and last year a total of around $50,000 was raised. By the end of the night, the Anoka Area Relay for Life had raised over $63,000 for cancer research.
“It takes a community to fight cancer and without our local sponsors we couldn’t do this,” Goble said.
This year’s honorary survivor Ashley Verbick, accompanied by her team Ashley’s Angels, described her experience with cancer. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age nine and has been cancer free for 12 years.
“What most people don’t know is it’s unforgettable in a bad way, but it’s unforgettable in the best way possible,” she said. “The memories I choose to remember are the good ones.”
Verbick highlighted several of her favorite memories from her challenging experience and thanked those who had surrounded her with support. She has finished her undergraduate degree at the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, and will now be going to Chicago, Ill., for dental school.
“I’ve been living the best life possible,” she said.
Following the ceremony, each cancer survivor present was announced and cheered on by the Anoka High School Tornadoes cheerleading team. The cheerleaders walked around the track and cheered on everyone to “fight, fight, fight!” against cancer.
The survivors then joined together to walk the survivor lap, a powerful experience for many, but an especially powerful experience for one who has never been able to walk the lap before.
Relay for Life Committee co-chairperson Kim Gust said one woman has been coming to the relay for years but was always unable to walk the distance. This year the committee was able to provide her with a golf cart so she could participate in the survivor lap.
“She was bawling when I told her,” Gust said.
At the end of the survivor lap, caregivers met with their survivor and released a balloon into the air before all coming together to walk the caregivers lap.
Many involved in the relay were there because of a family member who was fighting or had fought with cancer. Harold Gabrielson was there representing Wigs Accessories.
Gabrielson said he got involved because his daughter had been provided with a wig while she was going through chemotherapy.
“It really lifted her spirits,” he said. “There are lots of free programs that cancer patients can take advantage of.”
One of the largest teams, Fans of Fiedelman, participated in memory of Ira Fiedelman, a friend who had died from cancer. Fiedelman worked for more than 20 years as a social worker at Cedar Creek Community School.
Hannah Dziuk, a member of the Fans of Fiedelman team, made duct tape jewelry to sell at the relay to raise additional money for cancer research.
Fiedelman was a musician and the team also sold his CDs. Dziuk said the team’s goal was to walk 72 laps at the relay because he frequently completed 18-mile bike trips, the equivalent of 72 laps.
Throughout the night, many participated in a variety of theme laps, from a super hero lap to a three-legged lap. The closing ceremony and final lap took place at 4:30 a.m. June 23.
Co-chairperson St. Louis has been involved with the relay since her husband died from cancer five years ago.
She said her favorite part of the event each year is the luminaria ceremony. For a $10 donation, any individual could purchase a luminaria bag in honor of someone fighting cancer or in memory of a cancer victim.
During the luminaria ceremony, the candle inside each bag was lit and everyone walked a lap in silence, this year with the sounds of a bagpiper in the background.
Bethany Kemming is at [email protected]