Relay for Life

Finding a cure and supporting survivors is the goal of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, an event taking place in Edmond. The all-night event will be held at the University of Central Oklahoma's Plunkett Park, between 7:00 p.m. June 1 and 7:00 a.m. the next morning.

Relay for Life began in 1985 in Tacoma, Washington when a colorectal surgeon circled a university track for twenty-four hours and raised $27,000 for cancer research. Since then, the phenomenon that is Relay has spread across the United States and to several other countries.

Tammy Newberry got involved with Relay for Life through her son Isaac. What makes their story so important is that three-year-old Isaac is a cancer survivor.

Newberry remembers her son's diagnosis vividly. Two weeks after Easter in 2005, Newberry noticed a bump on Isaac's neck. By the first of May, the bump had grown to the size of a softball. The diagnosis process, from discovering the lump to undergoing the first round of chemotherapy, took about four weeks.

She explained that watching the bump grow bigger and bigger until it began affecting Isaac's breathing was hard to watch. Not being able to do anything and not knowing if the problem could be corrected-the overall feeling of uncertainty-was terrible for the family.

"That was the worst part," Newberry said.

After many doctors and tests, a CT scan finally revealed "suspicious cells." The official diagnosis was rhabdomyosarcoma, a relatively rare form of cancer in which the cells often resemble a six to twelve week old embryo.

Like many cancer patients, Isaac spent time in the hospital and underwent treatment that caused him to lose his hair. His mom explained that while he is a typical three-year-old today, he had no idea his early life was any different from those of his peers.

"He thought everyone went to chemo and lost their hair," Newberry said. She added that she is amazed at how quickly her son has recovered and at just how resilient he has proven to be.

She said that her son's type of cancer, unlike many other types, is considered cured after five years without recurrence. So far, Isaac has two years down and three more to go, a fact for which his family is very thankful.

After the diagnosis, Newberry said she was fortunate to be introduced to the Relay for Life concept. The initial diagnosis is devastating and that is why meeting with survivors is so important. Hearing from those who overcame the odds, rather than hearing of people who did not survive, gave the family much needed hope. Celebrating survivors, in Newberry's opinion, is the basis for Relay for Life.

The Newberry family plans to continue their involvement with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life and hopes Isaac will do the same when he gets old enough to realize what he has been through.

"It's important for survivors to be involved, not just teams," Newberry said.

Tammy McFarlin, the Edmond Relay For Life Event Chair for 2007, became involved with the event eleven years ago after her grandmother passed away from cancer. She and her mother have either been co-captains on a team or members of the organizing committee since that time.

Relay is more than just a fundraising effort of the American Cancer Society. McFarlin explained that survivorship and remembering the loss of loved ones is also part of the Relay experience.

"I feel Relay is very important to recognize our survivors, to let them know how much we support them and we support finding a cure," she said.

The events, though they vary slightly between locations, have many aspects in common. An opening ceremony featuring a survivor's lap kicks off the Relay, often held at a track. A "luminaria" ceremony emphasizing hope and paying respects to loved ones usually features candles used to light the track in remembrance of the cause. Finally, Relays often end with a closing ceremony with one last lap around the track in which everyone takes part.

McFarlin described the stages of the nightlong event as resembling the stages a cancer survivor experiences. The Relay begins at sunset, which symbolizes the diagnosis of a cancer patient. As the day comes to a close, participants experience the dark and cold, much like the physical effects and emotions often felt by cancer patients.

The time between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. represents the start of treatment. As a patient would feel tired and sick, so may Relay participants who take turns walking the track with other team members.

"Like the cancer patient, you cannot stop or give up," McFarlin said.

From 4:00 to 5:00 a.m. symbolizes the completion of treatment when a patient realizes he will survive. The rising of the sun represents hope for a new day and the future.

Teams normally consist of employees at local businesses or organizations. These teams compete to raise funds for cancer research and the search for a cure.

"Both food and entertainment will be provided. We will have a DJ, maybe some bands and games that will go all night long," McFarlin said. "Several local restaurants have donated food."

For more information, contact Tammy McFarlin at (405) 642-0003, Suzy Shoemaker at (405) 205-8519, Kristi Strubhart at (405) 824-5215, Steve Shoemaker at (405) 417-6831 or visit

The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service. For more information, call anytime, day or night, 1-800-227-2345 or visit

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