More than 320 local residents, including 100 cancer survivors, will participate in Relay for Life of Shawnee on April 25. Organizers, on a mission to create a community outpouring of involvement, are encouraging additional caretakers, survivors and supporters to join in.

More than 320 local residents, including 100 cancer survivors, will participate in Relay for Life of Shawnee on April 25. Organizers, on a mission to create a community outpouring of involvement, are encouraging additional caretakers, survivors and supporters to join in.

The American Cancer Society event moves indoors this year, to the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center in Shawnee. The evening before the event, Arvest Bank, on North Broadway Avenue will host Bank Night. Volunteers at the pre-event will collect team money, answer questions of anyone interested in future committee involvement and sell luminaries.

“For $5, you can buy a luminary in the name of a caretaker or a survivor,” volunteer Donna Rogers said. “You can do it in memory of someone, or to honor someone. You can decorate it, or we can decorate it for you. Some college and high school kids are going to help us.”

Event chairman Shannon Tiger said luminaries are just one of the relay’s many symbolic messages.

“The main relay signifies the process from the time you are diagnosed with cancer until, hopefully, you become a survivor,” Tiger said.

Tiger said a kickoff ceremony signifies the time someone is made aware of their diagnosis. An emotional luminaria ceremony follows.

“We talk about the people we have lost, which represents, in the journey, when it hits you, ‘Oh, I have cancer,’ and when the depression starts. It is pitch black, just candles. It’s a remembrance ceremony,” Tiger said.

A midnight fight-back ceremony symbolizes transitioning into a proactive state.

“Your attitude changes, hopefully, and in that part of the relay we start talking about sunscreen, getting screenings every year, things you can do to prevent it,” Tiger said. “And then, the closing ceremony, hopefully, represents the journey is finished and you’ve come out a survivor.”

Tiger said survivor numbers, for several reasons, are down this year. She said some people just do not feel like attending, while others are not emotionally ready. Tiger’s mother, Marti Wolf, is a cancer survivor and understands that mindset.

“It took a couple of years after I was pronounced cured of cancer, before I really wanted to go participate,” Wolf said. “I think when you go through having cancer, I don’t know everyone feels this way, but you’re struggling and you want to get on through it and past it, but you don’t want to identify it.”

Rogers’ sister, also a cancer survivor, had similar thoughts before becoming an active participant.

“My sister always said, ‘But I don’t want to be the sick person.’ I said, ‘But you’re not that person. You are one of many. You are not standing out there alone,’” Rogers said.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a survivor dinner. Tiger said survivors bring a guest to what is similar to a birthday party and introduce themselves and share cancer experiences.

“Sometimes people will tell you three different dates because they got it three different times and in different areas,” Tiger said. “People cheer. It’s not something you would expect.”

The walking event lasts 12 hours, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. A team typically has at least one person walking at any given time. When off walking duty, participants have the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities.

“There’s a DJ all night, there are Fun Laps going on, there are games being played, a lot of talented people are going to come sing and there is Zumba at 1 a.m.,” Tiger said.

The Kid Zone, a children’s area featuring a bouncy house fundraiser, will remain open until midnight.

“Bring your kids out, to introduce them to the thought of giving to others, participating in your community and helping others,” Rogers said.

Through the hosting of creative events, teams have raised money for the past several months. They will continue to bring dollars in at the relay, by auctioning off gift baskets and selling food and goods at team tables. Businesses, often anonymously, also help and donate. Last year, $69,000 was collected. Relay Specialist Susan Flesner said the organization is aiming higher this year.

“For this year’s event, we’re at about $36,000 and our goal is $73,000,” Flesner said.

Tiger said every penny is sent to The American Cancer Society and a portion of raised money stays in Oklahoma and goes to programs like Angel Flight and Look Good, Feel Better.

“The money goes to so many things,” Tiger said. “Relay is all over the world.”

Tiger said everyone, even if never directly touched by cancer, should come to the relay. Rogers agreed and expressed how attending can change one’s perspective.

“It doesn’t really compute until you’ve been out there and participated or watched,” Rogers said. “You can just sit there and watch and you’re affected by it.”

Child strollers are permitted and golf carts will be available to transport survivors wherever they need to go. At the end of the event, awards will be presented to several individuals, businesses and groups that continue to work tirelessly for a cure.

“When you’re tired in the middle of the night, because most of us come from jobs or being a mom or dad, and you’re so tired and you are completely weary and emotionally drained, but you keep going until the end. Not that what we do is anything like what a cancer survivor or patient is going through, but it just reminds you,” Tiger said. “We are tired, we want to quit, but we can’t, because we have to continue raising money and finding new research and finding those things that help people who are in the middle of their experience.”

Wolf said it has been neat to witness people come together, in so many ways, to fight the disease.

“I think it’s a real confirmation of hope that all things are possible,” Wolf said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel for people who are going through that fearful time of cancer.”

For additional relay information, visit