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Relay for Life brings community together to run against cancer

Courtesy David Martinez
Photos by David Martinez

The Tucson/Vail Relay for Life was held March 29 and 30, but the work isn’t done yet. The Relay for Life team continues to strive to celebrate survivors and fundraise for cancer research and patient-care programs.

“This was our 19th one,” said Duane Richardson, one of the event co-leads. “My wife Kimberlee was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26, so we got involved at that point. We wanted to give back and do something.”

Each Relay for Life is special, but the people who attended and the survivors that were present were the highlight of this year’s event, Richardson said. The attendees’ energy and passion for finding a cure helped make this Relay for Life memorable.

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“It’s amazing to see the individuals that raise money or get donations for the American Cancer Society,” Richardson said. “To see that dedication is pretty inspiring.” 

Photos by David Martinez
Photos by David Martinez

Aside from the people, the luminaria ceremony was another can’t-miss moment from the event.

“We had a beautiful luminaria ceremony,” said Tracelyn Sutton, the community development manager. “We lit up the word ‘hope’ that went along with a reading. We also had a huge number of luminarias around the track that lit it beautifully, and you were able to walk by and reflect on those names and the individuals that the luminarias represented.”

One team present at the event was the Kids at Heart. Denis Cournoyer, the team captain, has been participating in the Relay for Life for 18 years. The team is made up of friends and family members whose lives have been affected by cancer.

“We are just a hard-working fundraising team that have been able to raise over $20,000 over the past few years,” Cournoyer said.

So far, the Kids at Heart team has been able to raise $21,168, thanks to various fundraisers and sponsorships, Cournoyer said. 

“We have a team raffle where people who buy the tickets have a chance to win prizes,” Cournoyer said. “We also do a Gaslight Theatre fundraiser where we buy out the hall and the proceeds from the ticket sales support our fundraising.”

photos by David Martinez
photos by David Martinez

Despite all the different donations from teams and community members, the Tucson/Vail Relay for Life is still short of their $70,000 goal. However, there are still various ways people can help the cause. According to Sutton, the website is still open and donations can still be made.

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“The biggest way to help is to get involved,” Richardson said. “It affects everybody at some point, whether it is them specifically or a family member, so bringing awareness to it and putting forth that effort is important.” 

Relay for Life not only helps the survivors but also benefits the Tucson community. The money the event raised goes directly to different programs that help fund transportation and lodging for cancer patients. It also funds cancer research that happens here at the University of Arizona, according to Sutton.

“This event raises funds to support the American Cancer Society’s programs, which are free programs for people facing cancer,” Sutton said.  

The Relay for Life also gives people the opportunity to come together, celebrate the survivors and fight to end this deadly disease. 

“The Relay brings people together,” Richardson said. “They share stories, and they give each other hope. We are all on social media, and we don’t communicate. We don’t hug each other and say it’s going to be okay. We need to give them a shoulder to cry on, and that’s what the Relay for Life is all about.”

For Cournoyer, the way the survivors connect and help one another makes this event essential to the Tucson community.

“It gives support to cancer patients that may not know where to go,” Cournoyer said. “They are able to see that there are people out there like themselves that got through it.”

One thing Richardson, Sutton and Cournoyer stressed was no matter your age, you can help make a difference in someone else’s life. 

“From small children to senior citizens, everyone can get involved in the event and participate in whatever level they are able to,” Cournoyer said.

For more information on the event visit the Tucson/Vail Relay for Life website. 

Follow Jamie Donnely on Twitter

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