COLUMBIA — Cancer survivors who came Friday night to the Boone County Relay For Life at Rock Bridge High School wore purple shirts adorned with the phrase "Happy Birthday Is A Victory Song."
The Kiesling quadruplets, who turned 9 on Friday, took the American Cancer Society slogan to heart. Carly, Drake, Trey and Peyton invited all of their classmates from Columbia Catholic School to attend the Relay For Life. The children asked for donations instead of presents, and they raised $1,400.
“Presents don’t really save someone’s life,” Carly Kiesling said.
Participants sang “Happy Birthday” to the Kieslings as well as to all the cancer survivors in attendance. To begin the relay, survivors took a lap around the outdoor track while “Celebration” played in the background.
After the survivor's lap was completed, all of the relay teams joined the survivors.
People then followed the instructors from Wilson’s Fitness who led Body Jam, a dance-inspired cardio workout. Instructor Melissa Blauch, 23, went to Wilson’s three years ago when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Blauch said the classes changed her perspective on life and helped her become a survivor.
"That’s why I wanted to be an instructor — to live life to its fullest and to inspire other people to live healthy,” Blauch said.
Each team set up a tent with an on-site fundraiser that they organized. Participants were only limited by their own creativity, and the fundraisers included bean bag tosses and T-shirt sales.
Olivet Christian Church brought an old car, donated by Sorrels Used Auto Parts, to the event. For $1, people could hit the car with a sledgehammer and literally “beat cancer,” team captain Sharon Spotswood said.
Spotswood, a throat cancer survivor, participated in previous relays, and she called the luminaria ceremony the most moving part of the night.
“It’s just a visual depiction of how many are affected by cancer,” Spotswood said.
At 9:30 p.m., all the lights on the field turned off. It was dark, save for the glow of white bags filled with candles. Hundreds of luminarias lined the track, representing people who have been affected by cancer.
During the luminaria ceremony, children stopped playing and sat by their families. Everyone observed a moment of silence, and the hum of crickets was the only sound. A bagpipe then began to play “Amazing Grace,” and organizers read off the names on each luminaria for 15 minutes.
Fight-back speaker Mary Foster, a stage-three melanoma survivor, talked at midnight. Foster compared Relay For Life to a cancer patient’s journey. The event starts while it is still light outside. It gets darker and colder, like a patient’s diagnosis. In the end, though, the sun comes up, and the patient becomes a survivor.
“I’m just so lucky to feel well enough now to go ahead and give back to (The American Cancer Society) because they gave so much to me,” Foster said.
Lori Osborne lost her 43-year-old friend, Laurie Lightner, last year to breast cancer. She joined the team Friends of Laurie in her friend's honor.
"Relay for Life has become my passion," Osborne said. "It brings back a lot of memories of people that we've lost that we need to remember."
Lance Brown, co-chairman of the event, said this year’s relay had 93 teams compared to 75 in 2009. The goal was to raise $245,000, and, as of Saturday morning, participants had raised $187,000, Brown said. The fundraising continues until August 31.
Team Eye of the Tiger raised $3,045 online, the most money of any team.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in a long time, and I look forward to doing it again,” team member Craig Lycke said.
Lauren Lineweber, spokeswoman for the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society, said Relay For Life is a great way for the community to come together in the fight against cancer, a fight that does not end after the 12-hour event.
“Together we’re helping to save lives in the hopes that we can one day move toward a world with more birthdays and less cancer,” Lineweber said.