Cancer survivors celebrate lifeLike troops coming home from battle, 100 or more local men, women and children who are living with cancer marched under a balloon arch Friday night while hundreds of people lined the sidewalk, applauding their courage and will to survive.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Like troops coming home from battle, 100 or more local men, women and children who are living with cancer marched under a balloon arch Friday night while hundreds of people lined the sidewalk, applauding their courage and will to survive.
Survivors wearing purple t-shirts walked the first official lap around Bay Point Park, marking the start of the 21st annual Mississippi Shuffle Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
The Shuffle is a bittersweet event that at the same time celebrates the lives of people who have cancer and memorializes those who have lost the battle. All though the night, participants walk around the park's perimeter, past luminaria bags which bear the names of people being honored or remembered.
But the mood Friday evening was celebratory, despite the occasional drizzle of rain and the threatening skies.
Plans were in place to evacuate if local authorities gave the word that severe weather was approaching. It happened in 2007 and several years ago; the recent evacuation of about 700 walkers was accomplished swiftly, officials said.
At 6 p.m., though, people just smiled at one another and started walking. This year's Shuffle had 61 teams of 10 to 15 members each, co-chairman Nancy Paasch said.
And every one of them raised money for the cause. As of 6:45 p.m., the total stood at $143,604.49, which is more than last year. The number will grow, as there were some fundraisers in progress, including a silent auction.
And people kept coming down to the park to buy luminaria. Emily Gruber of Big Lake, Minn., had to call her father, Steve, for help pushing a tiered cart filled with the bags to a spot in the park where there still was room. Cindy Luhman, a volunteer organizer, had recruited her nephew and his daughter, who also volunteer at their local Relay for Life in Becker, Minn.
In the first 20 years of the Shuffle, Paasch said, donations from the public — not counting corporate sponsors — have totaled nearly $1.77 million.
One of the busiest places on the grounds during the hour leading up to the opening ceremony was the survivor tent. A new feature of this year's Shuffle, it offered shirts, purple ribbons, survivor pins and food coupons to anyone with cancer, including people who are not on teams.
"It's really going well," said Karen Stein, a volunteer and seven-year cancer survivor. She explained the process to Bruce Klair, who joined the survivor group six months ago, inviting him to sign a survivor banner.
The focus on survivors was a good thing, said Scott Berghammer, who admitted he was surprised at the number of purple shirts in the park. He was diagnosed 1 1/2 years ago, and "It's going well so far," he said.
Berghammer and his wife, Jill, walked the park last year, but this year they were part of a team organized by their son Josh's wife, Sam. The 13-member Cancer Crushers team had a car wash at Tires Plus; altogether, they raised about $1,500.