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Relay means so much

The Stark County Relay for Life will be held Friday at the Dickinson High School track. Relay for Life, for those who don't know, is the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society.

Each event gives communities a chance to celebrate the lives of people who are battling cancer, remember loved ones lost, raise money for research and promote awareness and prevention and generally give everyone a chance to fight back against the disease. Sadly, all of us know of someone affected by cancer.

During Relay, teams of 12 or more people raise money, camp out at a high school, park or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team has a representative on the track at all times.

Because cancer never sleeps, Relays are overnight, up to 24 hours.

Relay began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Wash., ran and walked around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Relays start with a Survivors Lap when cancer survivors circle the track together and help everyone celebrate their victory, and also recognize the caregivers who assist in their struggle.

After dark, a Luminaries Ceremony is held for those touched by cancer and to remember loved ones lost. Candles are lit inside bags filled with sand, each one with the name of a person touched by cancer and their names are read aloud.

Both ceremonies are incredibly emotional as attendees remember lost loved ones, and sadly worry about survivors, and who will be next.

Cancer is a cruel illness that doesn't discriminate; it affects people from all walks of life. While I was publisher at the Havre Daily News in North Central Montana I had the privilege of serving as a co-chairman of the first Hill County Relay for Life.

That first year, fellow chairperson Carol Reifschneider and I were in well over our head, and within a few weeks of the Relay I was sure the event would consist of her and me and a couple of flashlights. Thankfully, at the eleventh hour, several community members stepped up and we gathered eight teams and raised a respectable $13,000 for the American Cancer Society and honored several hundred cancer survivors and victims.

Last year, the Hill County Relay celebrated its 10-year anniversary and has grown remarkably once I got out of the way.

Karen Pronto stepped up to help put that first Relay for Life together. My new friend Karen had recently returned to her hometown and owned and operated a small clothing store. Despite the countless hours she worked as a small business owner, she was a tireless worker before and during the Relay. Judging by how hard she worked no one could have known that by the second Relay Karen would be one of the too many cancer victims.

Cancer once was an almost certain death sentence but thankfully through groups like the American Cancer Society the survival rate is light years better than it was even a decade ago. Relay for Life is a major contributor of dollars for the necessary research, but also a great way to promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle, prevention and early detection.

If you have never been to a Relay for Life I encourage you get involved or at least attend.

It truly is a one-of-a-kind special event.

-- Brock is The Dickinson Press publisher. E-mail him at