The Relay for Life of Linn County was held Saturday, Sept. 22 in the East Twin Park in downtown Brookfield.
The event honored cancer survivors, as well as members of the community who have passed away from cancer.
The Relay for Life of Linn County started at 5 p.m. Saturday. The event included a silent auction, homemade dinner and dessert for sale and music provided by Linn County resident John Thomas. Many people from around Linn County gathered in the East Twin Park to support the annual event.
The Linn County event has been happening annually for over twenty years. The first ever Relay for Life of Linn County took place in 1997. Back then, it was just a luminaria service, but now the event has many facets. In recent years, the event was a 24-hour walk, but has been shortened to allow more people to participate.
Event volunteers come back year after year. Ginny McMains, her husband and Carol Alexander started the first ever event and still help out today. This year’s coordinator Beth Roby has been with the Linn County event for the past six years. Previously, she helped out for many years volunteering at the Mizzou Relay for Life event as well.
According to McMains, she keeps coming back for those battling the disease.
“Our No. 1 reason for this event is to celebrate our survivors,” McMains said.
Roby agrees with McMains.
“The survivors are the reason why we’re trying to find a cure,” Roby said. “We want to honor all of the survivors.”
This year’s event was attended by many from around Linn County. At the start of the event, the park was bustling with people visiting, bidding in the silent auction, or listening to music. As the night went on, more people gathered. Among the attendees were more than 30 cancer survivors. At 7 p.m., the survivors lined up to take a survivor lap around the event. On their way back, their caretakers joined them, as they had when they struggling through the disease.
Beverly Sherwood says the event strengthens the survivors.
“In one word, this event give me hope,” Sherwood said. “[It reminds me] that others care.”
One attendee was directly impacted by American Cancer Society (ACS) research. Merle Gray is now 80-years-old and has been battling cancer for the past 20 years. Gray received a diagnosis for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in 1998.
For Gray, he was in shock.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard [my diagnosis],” Gray said. “I’ve been on a long road to recovery since then.”
Gray picked up smoking after graduating from Meadville High School. He became a rural mail carrier and would smoke while on the job. Gray did this for many years before being diagnosed.
Gray says he quit cold turkey afterward.
“I bought my last pack of cigarettes after receiving the diagnosis, that was the last pack I ever purchased,” Gray said.
While watching TV late one night, Gray heard about a new clinical trial for those diagnosed with CML. Gray was watching “60 Minutes” when the advertisement came on. The next morning, he visited his doctor to see what he could do. Previously, Gray had been turned down for a clinical trial in Chicago, but he had hope. Luckily, Gray’s doctor was able to put him in the clinical trial for the drug Gleevec. For the past 20 years, Gray has been taking Gleevec once a day and has been mostly cancer-free since then.
“For me, this is a miracle,” Gray said.
Gleevec has helped with other types of leukemia, and it’s showing signs it may affect other cancers as well. The drug research was paid for by the American Cancer Society through money raised by Relay for Life events.
The event concluded Saturday with a luminaria service. More than 175 luminaries were set up on Main Street in Brookfield. The luminaries were purchased to remember everyone who has been impacted by cancer.
The Relay for Life of Linn County continues to contribute to the ACS. On average, the Linn County event raises $15,000-$20,000 dollars for new cancer research. Since the campaign started, Relay for Life events have raised more than $400 million and now happen in 27 countries around the world.
Linn County has another fundraiser in November. A gingerbread house decorating night will be held in Marceline the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
Roby says she wants to highlight the efforts being made in Linn County.
“We want to raise awareness that the community is raising money for research and remembering those who’ve been battling this terrible disease,” Roby said.