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The Relay for Life begins with the survivors’ lap. At dark, lumenarias are placed along the track in memory of those who died of cancer.

With the sun slowly setting and the song “We’re not gonna take it” playing in the back round, survivors, caregivers, and Evanston community members all helped fight for the end of cancer by walking throughout the night at the local Relay for Life benefit held at Evanston Township High School on May 22.

Now in its 26th year, Relay for Life is an international event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, that gives communities the opportunity to celebrate those who have defeated cancer, remember the ones who have lost their battle to cancer, and raise funds to continue the fight to end the deadly disease.

Teams of willing participants helped raise money throughout their communities and then come together to camp out at a designated area and take turns walking around a track or path. Because of the motto “Cancer never sleeps” the event lasts overnight and for at least 12 hours, during which time at least one team member is always walking.

“Relay for life is always so successful because it brings the community together in a unique way,” says Eva Lu-Bonn, regional director of the Northshore Chapter of American Cancer Society. “Unfortunately almost everyone has been touched with cancer one way or another, Relay for Life celebrates survivorship and proactively fights for the end of the disease.”

With the theme of “Let’s celebrate more birthdays” Evanston’s Relay for Life consisted of about 176 participants and over 25 teams of all ages. “So many people [participate in] Relay for Life because it’s an easy way for people to give support,” says Suzanne Waddy, breast cancer survivor and Relay for Life participant. She adds, “By simply walking, [the community] is able to help save lives of those who will be or are already diagnosed.” Ms. Waddy says she has been able to celebrate an additional 13 birthdays.

Different from previous years, this year’s event had a major focus on family unity. “Unlike previous events, we have different types of entertainment, in order to please all ages, since more families have been joining,” says ETHS student Jadie Oldfield, who is a Relay for Life committee member and liaison between ETHS and the Relay for Life board.

With belly dancing lessons and the improv group Royal We, the event surely left many entertained. “Our goal is to increase participation and in order to do that we need to make sure that the participants are constantly having fun, this will then make them want to come to [next year’s event],” Jadie says.

 “[The Relay for Life] board decided to set a mandatory collection of $100 for all participants because we wanted to make sure that everyone was taking this seriously. We didn’t want people to just come for the ceremony and fool around; we wanted people to help fundraise money to help end the disease,” says Jadie.

Evanston participants raised almost $16,000 by asking community members to send blast emails to family members. “The money that is raised [here] stays in Evanston and is dedicated to those who are diagnosed with cancer,” says Lynn Kayla Ryan, chair of Evanston’s Relay for Life. “The money is divided into main categories: informing the public to be proactive about cancer, advocacy towards legislation, and cancer research,” she adds.