As the sun went down on Friday, July 8, luminaria bag lanterns, decorated with messages and pictures honoring those who have experienced living with cancer, lined the sidewalk around the Bellingham Public Library. Alongside, messages of love and remembrance were illuminated in the night.
The Relay for Life of Whatcom County began Friday at 6 p.m. with participants walking through the night in downtown Bellingham until 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 9. The rally raised over $180,000 for the American Cancer Society according to the relay organizers. The money will be used to fund cancer research and provide support for people fighting cancer.
More than 650 participants walked along the track that circled around the library. The first lap of the relay was for survivors and their caretakers. The rest of the participants stood on the sidewalk and cheered as the survivors walked by.
Whatcom County’ branch of Relay For Life was formed 1987. Relay for Life, relies on volunteers and organizers to make the event happen. Neil McKay, a cancer survivor and one of the committee leads for the event, got involved in Relay for Life to walk and stand with others whose lives have been impacted by cancer. McKay began volunteering at the relay five years ago when a coworker at the Ferndale School District died of cancer.
Vendors and booths from various organizations were at the rally. Knitted Knockers, a Bellingham organization that provides free knitted breast prosthetics to women who have undergone a mastectomy, was one organizations present. Their prosthetics are all knitted by volunteers who use their own resources. Barbara Demorest, the founder of Knitted Knockers, said they send out approximately 1,000 prosthetics all across the country every month.
“The caring aspect is really important,” Demorest said. “Not only was it a wonderful product, it was made by somebody who cared.”
Sixty-one teams took part in the relay that has been raising money through fundraising and donations. One of the teams, called Crush Cancer, was led by Stacey and Darren Jones. This was Crush Cancer’s first year at the relay and they were able to raise over $2,900. Stacey lost her aunt, uncle and mother to cancer all within five years.
“We had so many friends and family that we lost to cancer,” Stacey said.
The crowd at the relay had quieted down by the next morning, with some of the remaining participants showing signs of weariness after being awake for many hours. The rally concluded with all remaining participants and volunteers walking one final lap around the track.
The relay was a special opportunity to remember those who died of cancer and to celebrate and encourage survivors and people still fighting. The next Relay for Life will be held on August 31, at the Bellingham International Airport.