LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Cancer doesn't stop to sleep, so why should we?
That's the sentiment of Jennifer Milley and many more like her who plan to take part Saturday in the Lakewood Ranch Relay For Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
This overnight event is dedicated to celebrating the lives of survivors who have successfully fought cancer and remembering those who have succumbed to the disease, along with raising much-needed money for research programs that can lead to a cure. Lakewood Ranch is one of five area locations where Relays For Life will be held during the entire month of May, which was proclaimed Relay For Life Month by the Manatee County Commissioners on April 22. Bradenton will hold its Relay For Life this Saturday at G.T. Bray park.
"We raise money for all types of cancer to fight this disease. That's why the American Cancer Society is helping to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays," said Jennifer Milley, Lakewood Ranch's event chair and captain of the Lakewood Ranch/Fifth Third Bank team, where Milley serves as a branch manager.
Milley's team is one of 26 registered to take part in the Lakewood Ranch Relay For Life, along with 292 current participants. The goal of the Lakewood Ranch Relay is to raise $60,000, similar to what was raised last year, and Milley said she's anticipating exceeding her individual team goal of $2,500 during the 18-hour event that is scheduled to begin 6 p.m. Saturday at the YMCA of Lakewood Ranch and end the following morning at 8.
"It's very rare that someone hasn't been impacted by the disease, so we invite the community to come out and cheer on our survivors and participants," said Robyn Faucy, the American Cancer Society's senior manager for Relay For Life. "Community support will mean so much and will help us achieve our goals."
This year's theme for the Lakewood Ranch Relay For Life is "Changing the Channel on Cancer," and all the teams have chosen a favorite television program to represent them as their team members take turns lapping around the track each hour to walk for a cure. The teams include lots of participants from area middle schools, high schools and colleges, as well as local physicians and health care professionals, several charities, large Lakewood Ranch companies and smaller, entrepreneurial businesses that are also headquartered there.
The community is invited to take a stroll through the back field of the Lakewood Ranch YMCA, where the walking track will be set up, along with a band and a DJ, and team booths that will raise money selling food, beverages, and raffles, and hosting activities the entire night, like a Sumo Wrestling Tournament, a Pie Eating Contest and a Lip Sync/Air Band Battle.
Courtney Huff, a 19-year-old cancer survivor who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia when she was a young child, is now a student attending New College of Florida. Huff has organized all the activities for the Lakewood Ranch Relay and will participate as a survivor and give the welcome presentation.
"The experience is very different being a survivor, especially during the ceremonies that are held throughout the night. But, it's a special moment to walk as a survivor and see the outpouring of support," she said.
The highlight of the Relay For Life happens at the start with an opening ceremony, where Huff, who is now in remission, is expected to speak and remind the crowd that while winning her battle with cancer, fighting the disease is still a year-round priority. Next, all the cancer survivors at the event will take the first lap to celebrate their victory over cancer, cheered on by the other participants. Afterward, their caregivers will be honored with a walk of support. The final and most emotional ceremony of the evening is the Luminaria held at 9 p.m., when time will be set aside to remember those who have died of cancer and people who are currently battling the disease. Lighted Luminaria bags will be placed on the track as a symbol that light is life and hope is never lost.
For Milley, who says she's not one to shed tears too often, this will be an emotional experience.
"It's really powerful, and I usually break down and cry. The whole point of this entire relay is, I never want my child to say my mom has cancer."
Information about the Lakewood Ranch Relay For Life is available on the American Cancer Society Web site at relayforlife.org/lakewoodranchfl.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.