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Relay for Life: Annual event raises money, brings hope

Last year, the Relay for Life event raised $79, 052. This year the event will take place from noon to midnight Saturday at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. A goal has been set at $80,000 this year. Submitted Photo

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life event is emotional and moving, but it sends a clear message: cancer can be conquered.

The Relay for Life will take place from noon to midnight Saturday at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. The community-sponsored event is a fundraiser for cancer survivors, research, education and advocacy.

"Relay for Life is a team-based event, so we have 48 teams of various sizes this year, many of whom have been conducting fundraisers year round for the American Cancer Society (ACS)," said Angele Hartell of Tenstrike, ACS community relations for the region.

The fundraising for the event is almost entirely done by people in Beltrami County, Hartell said, whether by putting on bake sales or selling luminary bags dedicated to cancer survivors.

"Volunteers are working and the volunteers are raising money and providing the donations," she said.

Last year, the event raised $79, 052 and the goal has been set at $80,000 this year.

"That goal was set last September. One of the things we're always trying to do through Relay is recognize the support that is available," she said. "With the various medications and treatments that have been developed over the years, just about anyone who has cancer has been a direct beneficiary of it."

Money raised through Relay for Life allows ACS to provide services to cancer patients, survivors and their families.

In the past, the event has taken place from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., but this year, volunteers have tried to incorporate more family events along with the scheduled events.

"It's very much community-based and how our volunteers want to do it," Hartell said.

The event will open to the public at noon followed by opening ceremonies. The first survivor lap will begin at 1:30 p.m. starting with those who have been cancer-free for 35 years or more.

The survivor lap honors the courage of anyone who has defeated cancer. Every person is introduced by name and the number of years of being a survivor.

The Luminaria Ceremony will take place at 8:45 p.m. This moment is significant as it honors anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and the memory of those who have lost their battle with it.

"There is a blessing of the caregivers hands and then the survivors will lead us in the lap following a bagpiper," Hartell said. "I cannot go around a track without looking at those luminaria bags and remembering those people. Everyday is a relationship. It's pretty impactful."

Bags are filled with candles in sand and are placed around the track, while survivors, family and friends walk a lap.

Honorary chair

Another major part of the Relay for Life event is the Honorary Chair, a cancer survivor who steps forward to share his or her story.

When Yvonne Solheim of Bemidji was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, she described the feeling being like, "someone had driven over me with a pickup truck."

Solheim went through the steps to overcome her breast cancer, and today, she is cancer-free. She was chosen as the Honorary Chair for this year's Relay for Life.

"The committee suggested my name and then asked me," she said. "I was on two teams last year, Anderson Fabrics Purple Pack and Breast Friends, and we raised the most money, and I also kept a very positive outlook during my cancer treatment."

She said using humor was a big part of bringing a lighter side to a dark subject. After a double mastectomy, her husband created a T-Shirt that read, "Under Construction," and "Coming Soon."

"It was things that weren't very funny, but it kind of lightened it up," Solheim said.

Solheim will share her story at 2:45 p.m. during the Relay for Life and said she will continue to be involved in the event.

"I guess I've always been a financial supporter of Relay and the American Cancer Society, she said. "I've always seen myself being very involved."

The Relay for Life event is open to the public. Luminaries can be purchased for a suggested $10 donation to honor someone touched by cancer. For more information on the event, contact Beltrami County Relay chair, Cindy Swedberg at