Rain can’t dampen spirit of Relay for Life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 5, 2004

By SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Despite the inclimate weather on Saturday, the seventh annual St. John Relay for Life went on without a hitch. Moved from Joe Keller Stadium to the gymnasium at East St. John High School, the event was successful by any standards.

Ninety-three cancer survivors were in attendance, along with their families and community members. Numerous activities were planned for the many-faceted 12-hour event.

A signature affair of the American Cancer Society, the Relay for Life is presented to bring about cancer awareness and raise money for cancer research. Also, cancer survivors are celebrated, as well as the honoring of those who lost the battle.

This year’s event raised $127,213.12 to date, according to Relay For Life Chairman Laura Zaidain-MacArthur.

The top-fundraising team was BaBa and Friends with $12,724.02; the top student team was St. Charles High School Team #5 with $4,388.15; and the top individual was Renee Boudreaux.

The Cambre Family and the Oubre Family tied for First Place in the Gumbo Cook-off; and The Cambre Family also took First Place in the Bake-off.

Before the traditional first lap around the track by cancer survivors, a few guests spoke to the crowd.

Seventh-grader Elise Michel was one of those speakers.

“I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 11 years old,” she told the crowd. “I am a survivor, and realize how important an event like this is.” The twelve-year-old Reserve Christian School student related her experiences with cancer, showing the crowd that cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can affect anyone at any age.

“I got through with the support of my family and my God,” she added.

Sandra Bacas also won her battle with cancer, and told attendees Saturday that the experience is not only hard for the patient, but difficult for those giving support.

“My family was there for me, and I know how hard it was for them,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to see my children crying and not be able to put my arms around them.”

Numerous rounds of radiation and chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair, and she received blood transfusions. But she never lost her fighting spirit. “I was appreciative, humbled and blessed. I had quite a bit of love and support from family, coworkers and many others. I am now cancer-free.”

Zaidain MacArthur commented that the fighting spirit must stay at the forefront. “When you see the faces of the survivors, and the unbelievable courage and heroism that they possess, it is truly amazing,” said Zaidain-MacArthur. “You are motivated to continue battling this horrible disease.”

The rain continued to pour outside when event coordinators began the luminary/dedication part of the program later in the evening. Since Saturday’s activities took place indoors, there was a change in plans for the usual Luminaries Ceremony.

This ritual honors those who lost their battle with cancer, as well as recognizing survivors. Traditionally, lit candles inside special white bags are placed around the walking track, which served as the focus for the Relay for Life march that continues on and off throughout out the night.

Due to safety reasons in the indoor gym, the candles Saturday were held by those sitting in front of the bags. The names of thousands of individuals and families that are survivors, or lost the battle with cancer, were written on the outside of the bags.

As a hush fell over the extremely large crowd, inspirational music began to play. Attendees became lost in their own remembrances, as they tightly held the candles and gazed at the names of their loved ones.

This continued for about 15 minutes, with Zaidain-MacArthur stating the sad facts of the dreaded disease.

“Cancer can strike anyone, anytime, at all ages,” she said. “More than 1.2 million people lost the battle with cancer last year.”

Music, face-painting, games and other activities kept everyone occupied for the duration of the long event. The scene was reminiscent of a family reunion, complete with camaraderie, friendship, teamwork and food.

As with any event with draws so many people, the necessity for food and beverages was evident, especially since this was overnight celebration. Many families and organizations rose to the occasion, manning soft drink stations, and food booths featuring homemade chili and hot dogs, among other culinary delights. Proceeds were forwarded to the funds for cancer research.

Supporter Kay Reeve of Laplace has attended Relay for Life for the past six years. As captain of the LaPlace Church of Christ team, she was honored to be part of the celebration. “It’s important to bring cancer awareness to the public,” she said. “That’s what we are doing tonight.”

Supporter Andrea Mathern likened Saturday’s Relay for Life to her son and his fellow soldiers. He is serving overseas in Haiti with the Armed Forces, and has just completed a stint in Iraq. “Just like my son and the other troops are supporting our country, we need the state of Louisiana to support the fight for cancer,” she said.

Two local clowns, Mr. Whiskers and his companion C.J., mingled with the crowd, making their appearance at the game booths. Many times during the evening, they respectfully joined the track-walkers, lending their sincere empathy.

The event continued through the night, with closing ceremonies at 5:30 a.m.

Many local businesses assisted in sponsoring and/or offsetting some of the costs of the event, according to Zaidain Mac-Arthur. “We continue to be amazed and humbled by the generosity of the citizens of St. John Parish,” she said. “We want to thank everyone for their part in the success of this year’s Relay of Life.”