Relay for Life Raises Awareness and Funds for Cancer Research
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided & JenFord Photography
In the spring of 1985, cancer survivor Gordy Klatt walked for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, to raise money for the American Cancer Society (ACS). His friends and family came out to support him, and their presence made him realize the healing nature of community. The following year he invited people to create teams, and the annual ACS Relay for Life was born. Now, 36 years later, this popular event has grown to 2,000 relays that take place across the country.
For years, Relay for Life Brownsburg has been held at Brownsburg West Middle School. Because it’s held on school grounds, teams have typically walked from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m., instead of 24 hours. Last year COVID-19 prompted event leaders and relays around the country to go virtual, which cost the ACS $20 million in donations across the globe.
“It was a drastic hit,” says Renee Mohler, event leader for Brownsburg’s Relay for Life.
This local chapter still performed very well, raising $70,000, putting them in the top percentage in the country.
Mary Kintner, a second-grade teacher at Brown Elementary School, is the team captain of Striding with Brown, the highest fundraising team in the area. Her team has raised more than $50,000 in the six years she’s been involved. The event is important to her because her extended family has been riddled with cancer, and she wanted to do her part to help fund research and support programs for cancer patients and their families.
“I love ACS’s motto, ‘Cancer won’t quit, so neither can we,’” says Kintner, whose husband received a cancer diagnosis three years ago. “So many suffer each day, each week and every year. I know that the work my team does for Relay is a small drop in the bucket, but it means something just knowing that we can make a difference.”
Kintner’s two co-captains, Cindy and Nancy, are both survivors and serve to inspire her.
“They are fighters, and I’m honored to partner with them,” says Kintner, who has made numerous friendships with people on the leadership team. “It’s a family of friends serving those who have fought hard.”
During a typical Relay for Life event, while some teammates take turns walking a track, others fundraise by selling food, running silent auctions, or offering fun activities like a dunk tank or mini golf. This year’s Relay for Life, however, will be a drive-through event at Brownsburg High School on May 15, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“We’re going to ask people to stay in their cars because we don’t want to compromise the health of survivors by encouraging people to be in a close-knit group,” Mohler says. “We’ve had to switch gears on all protocols to make this safe for cancer survivors.”
Vehicles will enter on Bulldog Boulevard, stopping at various stations as they make their way around the parking lot.
Luminaria bags, each representing either a cancer patient, cancer survivor or someone who has lost their life to cancer, will be lit by 8 p.m. Supporters can drive the parking lot.
Towards the end of the evening, around 8:30 p.m., survivors will line up near the stage for a luminaria ceremony. Masked volunteers will decorate survivors’ cars, and present them with gift bags and to-go meals.
“It’s really pretty cool,” Mohler says. “We’ll also try to write a message in the stands.”
This year has been harder than normal for many cancer patients. Some died in hospitals without their families. Others couldn’t get access to treatment because it wasn’t the priority anymore. Still others neglected treatment or put off diagnoses.
“When cancer patients feel part of a community, it offers hope,” Mohler says.
“While we can’t all be in person this year, I still want them to know that this community is here for them. The survivors who come will be loved on.”
Lindsay Brown, 39, has learned firsthand what it feels like to be part of a community. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April of 2020, near the start of the pandemic. The timing proved to be both good and bad.
“I have a love-hate relationship with COVID,” says Brown, noting that since most doctors’ offices were closed last spring except for emergency situations, she was able to move quickly once she found a lump. “I noticed the lump on Sunday, called on a Tuesday, was in for my mammogram on that Wednesday, and by Friday I knew I had cancer.”
Brown, who has two boys aged 7 and 11, had a double mastectomy on May 13 – a difficult day, as her husband Chad dropped her at the hospital door and had to sit in the parking lot for the 10-hour surgery since no one was allowed in the waiting room. Thankfully, the day before she started chemotherapy, the hospital lifted restrictions and Chad was able to accompany her.
“I was told if I were to contract COVID-19 during chemo, it would be devastating,” Brown says.
Though her family was a huge support, it was still a lonely time to be a cancer patient. Throughout her cancer journey, Brown documented her highs and lows on social media.
“Sometimes when I shared my feelings online, I felt like I was being a baby, but people would tell me, ‘Vent, girl! Do it!’” Brown says. “They even sent me cookies and bottles of wine with supportive notes.”
While some people might not feel comfortable sharing such personal information, Brown did it as a sort of public service announcement, to alert other women to stay vigilant about their health, even if they’re young.
“I never in a million years would have thought I’d get cancer,” Brown says.
Cancer doesn’t run in her family, yet she got it at age 38. Genetic testing concluded that she had a 40% chance of recurrence in the next decade if she didn’t undergo chemotherapy. She opted for four rounds of a chemotherapy combination, followed by 12 rounds of a separate kind.
“If there’s a 38-year-old out there who feels a lump and thinks, ‘I’ll wait to deal with it when I’m 40,’ maybe my story will change their mind,” Brown says. “If I’d waited until I was 40 to get that mammogram, my story would have a different ending.”
Mohler started following Brown on social media and reached out to tell her about Relay for Life. Brown decided to start her own team, called Lindsay’s Bosom Buddies.
Even though the event is labeled Relay for Life Brownsburg and is held in Brownsburg, Mohler stresses that event leaders want all Hendricks County residents and businesses to get involved.
“There are cancer survivors throughout the county and we want to welcome them all,” Mohler says.
The event helps to lift spirits and truly make a difference.
“Every year the number of survivors goes up, while the number of those losing the battle to cancer goes down,” Kintner says. “That’s why I love being a part of this.”
If you or your business would like to donate a basket or become a sponsor, contact Mohler at RelayForLife.BrownsburgIN@gmail.com. For more information on Relay for Life, visit relayforlife.org/brownsburgin.