Even before she survived brain cancer, Barbara Messel had been involved with Relay for Life.
Her family had a history with the disease, and Messel wanted to support members of her family and others who had been affected.
Then came her own diagnosis: a golf ball-sized tumor behind her left eye that caused hallucinations, made it difficult for her to remember life before cancer and would require surgery to remove.
Now a survivor, Messel is perhaps even more dedicated to her cause. She is a vocal advocate of the yearly event and this year is on the entertainment committee for the Grundy County event, which will be held Saturday into Sunday.
“It’s a community of support and love,” said Messel, who lives in Newark and works in Morris. “[Participants] are doing it because they know somebody who has had cancer or have had it themselves.”
The signature event of the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life began in 1985 when a doctor in Tacoma, Wash., walked around a track for 24 hours to raise $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. The next year, more than 300 supporters turned out.
Since then, Relay for Life events have occurred yearly across the world as supporters turn out in teams to walk through the night.
According to the event’s web site, more than $4 billion have been raised for the American Cancer Society to date.
Carrie Robinette, organizer of the Grundy County event, said in a statement that this year’s Relay will mark the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday.
“It’s the progress we’ve made together — as a community, as volunteers, as survivors and as leaders — that has helped us reach this incredible milestone with tremendous success,” Robinette said.
“By lending your support to Grundy County’s relay this year, you’ll be lending your support to the Society’s efforts to finish the fight and bring an end to cancer as we know it,” Robinette added.
The Grundy County event will take place at Morris Community High School.
The opening ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Some of the events throughout the night include a hero lap at 4:30 p.m., featuring military, police and fire personnel; the luminaria ceremony at 9 p.m.; a midnight dance party; and closing ceremonies at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
Messel said the survivor and caregiver laps are two of her favorite parts.
Messel said that while the event is about raising money and awareness for cancer, it is also meant to be fun.
“We don’t all just stand around crying,” Messel said. “Everyone is supporting each other, clapping.”
For Messel, that sense of community gives survivors, caregivers and others affected by cancer a sense that they aren’t going through it alone.
“It feels like all these people care about you,” Messel said. “They’re doing it because they care.”
By Thursday, the 116 participants signed up for the Grundy County event had raised $26,388.