LIMA — There are times when a long line is a good thing.
During the opening ceremonies for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life Friday on the campus of OSU-Lima and Rhodes State College, those in attendance saw a very long line forming, as one by one, participating cancer survivors were called to receive a survivor medal and take part in the opening lap of the relay, now in its 20th year in Lima.
“It’s amazing to see the sea of purple survivors,” event chairwoman Cheryl Nagy said. “When we started this, we didn’t have all that many survivors. So this is awesome.”
As Nagy and other organizers draped the medals over each survivor’s head, they experienced tangible results of their two-decade long effort, as advances in cancer treatment made possible in part by Relay for Life have helped patients fight the disease and overcome it.
“This grows every year, so we’re very excited about that,” she said. “We’re finding more drugs that control or cure the cancer. We’re also helping to provide more education for greater prevention.”
Lima is home to one of the state’s longest-running relays, and the consistent support of the community has yielded amazing results.
“The community has just been incredible,” Nagy said. “To date, we’ve raised $1,670,000 to fight cancer. That doesn’t count what we’ve raised so far this year.”
That support continued Friday, with about 2,000 people on hand to kick off this year’s event. As organizers celebrated Lima’s history with the relay during the opening ceremonies, they took a moment to recognize four volunteers who have given their time to this cause since the beginning. One was Pasty Spring, and for her, Relay for Life literally changed the course of her life.
“I met so many wonderful people that first year, and it changed my life,” she said. “I was a cardiac nurse for 26 years, and I got so involved in this and it became such a part of me that I became an oncology nurse. I worked at the Lima Memorial Cancer Center. I now work in same day surgery, and in August, I’ll have been with Lima Memorial for 40 years, but almost every single week, I see someone who has cancer.”
Having that kind of history with Relay for Life has allowed Spring and other long-time volunteers to form close relationships with participants.
“What’s really cool is when I see previous patients that I took care of 10 or 15 years ago, and they’re still surviving,” she said. “I’m hugging people who I haven’t seen since last year. I may only get to see them once a year, but it’s a joyous reunion because we get to celebrate the fact that they had another birthday.”
Friday’s event brought out people from all backgrounds and walks of life. As Spring noted, cancer is the great equalizer with the ability to impact any life, making the work of Relay for Life all the more vital.
“People ask me if I’m a survivor, and I tell them that I could be,” she said. “None of us knows who will hear those words, ‘You have cancer’ next. Both of my grandmothers did, I have a cousin who died of pancreatic cancer and an aunt who has pancreatic cancer now. Any of us could be the next to hear those words. No one is immune to it.”
The Lima Relay for Life committee went into this year with the goal of raising $110,000, with 72 cents out of every dollar staying within the community. With almost $75,000 raised so far, Nagy is optimistic that they will succeed in reaching their goal.
“I think we’ll make it,” she said. “These people are motivated and they want to see a cure. We don’t want to see people get sick anymore.”
As the purple-clad crowd moved down the walkway in the middle of campus, Nagy, Spring and the other organizers and volunteers were buoyed in the hope that with each footfall on the concrete, they were one step closer to seeing cancer eradicated forever.
“We’re winning the battle,” Nagy said. “We’re going to finish this fight.”