By STEVEN NALLEY
The first close relative Brian Hawkins lost — his maternal grandfather — was a victim of liver cancer.
In the years since, Hawkins said he has lost several family members and friends to cancer. A longtime family friend once died from cancer right before Christmas, he said, and cancer has also taken away two of his aunts.
“When you know people who have been through it, you don’t want to see anybody else suffer like that,” Hawkins said. “The best thing I can do as one who’s living is make sure others have that right to live.”
Hawkins is co-chair of the 2012 Oktibbeha County Relay for Life, which is set for 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday at the Starkville Sportsplex.
The Relay For Life celebrates cancer survivors and raise money to support the American Cancer Society’s research, advocacy, education and patient assistance programs. Teams competing in the Relay for Life work all year to raise funds for ACS and then walk or run all night in a 12-hour relay. Each team must have one member on the track at all times, according to the official Relay for Life website, symbolizing the continuous battles cancer patients face.
The relay will also feature carnival and team games, food, dancing and live entertainment. Co-chair Barbara Foster said the games serve to break up the night and keep participants moving.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun,” Foster said, “but (we will also) spend time reflecting on how cancer has impacted us all in some way and how we can continue to work for a cure.”
Hawkins said the 2011 Relay raised more than $76,000 for ACS, and this year’s goal is $100,000. As of last week, he said, teams have raised more than $57,000, and the Relay itself raised more than $25,000 on its own last year. Hawkins said he is hoping for better weather to raise the relay’s earnings even further.
“We’re optimistic we’re going to come close or hit the goal this year,” Hawkins said. “With the 2010 and 2011 Relay events, we focused on the ‘Celebration’ and ‘Remember’ aspects with our themes. This year, we chose a theme to go with the ‘Fight Back’ aspect of the Relay focus when we decided to have an atmosphere celebrating heroes of all kinds, but particularly those involved in the fight against cancer.”
New for this year, Hawkins said, is entertainment from popular Columbus duo Keith and Margie. Hawkins said the steering committee will also revamp the Luminary and Torch of Hope Ceremony to make it more meaningful, and several more teams have joined this year. Other features include an Elvis Presley tribute by Bill Davis in costume, a performance by the KMG Creations dance troupe and the return of local musician Chase McGinnis.
Hawkins said several fundraising efforts leading up to the relay have succeeded, including a Relay For Life Flea Market on April 14 on Academy Road.
“Twelve teams participated, and we raised about $3,000,” Hawkins said. “Everybody really enjoyed themselves. That’s something we’re hopefully going to continue doing or modify year to year.”
Another initiative leading up to the relay is the “Paint the Community Purple” campaign, which encourages individual home and business owners to decorate their mailboxes or front doors with purple accessories, including bows from the American Cancer Society available for $5 at Book Mart. Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman has declared April 4-May 5 “Paint the Community Purple Month,” and he said the results have been visible at City Hall and around town. Wiseman said he is excited about the relay, because it continues to grow every year.
“It’s typically one of the highlights of the year in this community,” Wiseman said. “Cancer is something that has affected all of us in one way or another. My dad lost his mother, before I was born, to breast cancer. She passed away while he was in college. I will venture to say there is no one that hasn’t had a friend or loved one affected by cancer or fought the disease themselves.”