For longtime Wilsonville resident Debi Laue, cancer has been no stranger in her life. Having lost her father, grandfather and three of her childhood friends to cancer, as well as fighting her own battle with breast cancer 15 years ago, Laue has felt the ravages of the disease firsthand. But it wasn't until 2007 that Relay for Life entered her life when her son's 16-year-old best friend was diagnosed with bone cancer.
"He was a basketball player and his arm hurt," Laue says. "When he went in to the doctor, there was this big ol' tumor."
Laue, her family and the community rallied to offer their support, partly by participating with Relay for Life. Annually, Relay For Life is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society (ACS) and is hosted by volunteers in more than 5,200 communities in 27 countries. At the event, participants walk laps in honor of someone whose life has been touched by cancer and honoring those who have lost their lives to the disease by writing their names on hand-decorated paper lanterns called luminaries.
The goal of the event is to raise money for the ACS while spreading hope, awareness and support for those fighting cancer and remembering those who have lost their lives to the disease.
For Laue's young friend, aggressive treatment in combination with a dedicated support team at Doernbecher Children's Hospital did the trick. But Laue says that her experience with Relay for
Life changed her life for the better.
"We did the all-nighter event with the tents just to support the family and it was awesome," Laue says. "I got hooked because it was for someone that we loved."
It's that community connection that longtime Wilsonville Relay for Life organizer Pat Wolfram says make Relay for Life so effective.
"Participating in Relay is a way our community honors those that fight this disease and a way to show our friends that we really care about and love them, and want to do what we can to fight this disease," Wolfram said in an email interview. "We give moral support, we educate the community on the many resources available through ACS to cancer survivors and their caregivers, and we raise money to fund the fight. Last year we raised $33,000."
During 2016 the ACS estimated that more than 15.5 million people were in remission in the U.S. and an estimated 589,430 lost their lives to the disease, with many undergoing treatment in private, afraid to burden loved ones.
"The people that come can relate without feeling like they're complaining about their disease," Laue says. "People suffer in silence more than they need to and a lot of people have trouble reaching out for help.
"Not everybody needs a huge crowd of supporters, but when you're all in the same boat at the same event, I think that it is a safe place to discuss what you've been through and that people understand. It's like with anything: If you haven't been through it yourself, it's really hard to relate to."
Now in her 10th year as a supporter and sponsor of the Wilsonville Relay for Life, Laue hopes that more people from the community come to experience the power and support found in Relay for Life.
"It touches everybody," Laue said. "Putting the names of lost loved ones on luminaries and walking around — that, to me, is the most precious part of the event. Plus the 'survivors' lap.'"
Since the event is no longer a 24-hour walk and anyone can form their own team or join an existing team on the Wilsonville Relay for Life website, getting involved is easier than ever. For those still on the fence about attending, Laue challenges them to think of at least one person that they know who has had their life affected by cancer and to come and walk 10 laps for that person while reflecting on his or her life.
"It's a time for the community to come together and support cancer survivors, people who have lost their friends and relatives to cancer, and raise some money to help find some more cures," Laue says.
To learn more about the Wilsonville Relay for Life event Aug. 17, the community is invited to the May 15 kickoff event at Findlay Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram. From 6:30-8 p.m., the Wilsonville chapter of Relay for Life will be kicking off its season of fundraising and festivities by welcoming cancer survivors and all Relay for Life participants to the launch, which will also be the site of the first team captains' meeting.
The Wilsonville Relay for Life will be hosted at the Town Center Park Aug. 17 from 6-10 p.m.