Mary Wiswell, media chairwoman for Johnstown's annual Relay For Life event, is ready again to lace up her running shoes for an important cause.
The American Cancer Society's annual fundraiser and awareness campaign will return to Johnstown next month.
"We are having a gospel choir perform this year, which is new," Wiswell said.
Johnstown's sixth annual Relay will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, July 12, and continue until 1 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Johnstown High School football stadium and track. Teams are being registered and actively planning fundraising events leading up to the Relay. Event goals for this year include raising $46,000 and registering 40 teams. The event currently has 21 teams registered and 179 registered participants, raising $14,032.48 to date, Wiswell said.
"I believe that the community supports Relay For Life because it supports cancer survivors and their caregivers," Wiswell said, adding that this year's theme is "Say Bon Voyage to Cancer."
"It's sort of a cruise theme," she said. "Each team is being asked to decorate their campsite areas as a port of call."
Relay For Life is an 18-hour overnight event that brings together teams from local businesses, schools, churches and families for fun, food, music, entertainment and a night under the stars while team members take turns walking or running on a track. Relay For Life begins with a cancer-survivors lap and a reception to celebrate life. Money raised from this event goes toward the American Cancer Society's research, education, advocacy and patient-service programs.
The survivors lap is considered an inspirational time when survivors are invited to circle the track together and help everyone celebrate the victories they've achieved over cancer. The survivors lap is intended to serve as an emotional example of how Relay For Life participants are ensuring that more lives are saved each year -- like those of each individual on the track. Caregivers also are recognized and celebrated.
"(The American Cancer Society) is the leading cancer organization supporting cancer research and education," Wiswell said. "Mostly, I feel that for the Relay For Life of Johnstown, it is a community bonding event. Since we don't have many big corporate sponsors, we rely more on friends and family to support our event and raise money."
One of the highlights of the event is the luminaria ceremony, which begins at 10 p.m. During the event, people may purchase a luminaria in memory or in honor of someone who has been touched by cancer. The luminaria bags are placed around the track and lighted during a memorial program that includes a ceremony, and all of the names on the luminaria bags are read aloud.
Wiswell said participants are encouraged to bring canned foods as a base for each luminaria. After the event, the cans are donated to the Johnstown-Northridge food pantry.
Beth Hann, a 10-year cancer survivor, is honorary chairwoman, as well as co-chairperson for this year's event. She's been involved with the event since it first came to Johnstown in 2008.
"At the time, I was approaching my five-year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor," Hann said. "It seemed like the perfect time and the perfect way to give back and help make a difference in the lives and treatment of those who were facing the battle of fighting this disease."
She said she already has benefited from American Cancer Society programs and research.
"It is a great community event to support cancer survivors and to remember those whose lives were lost to cancer," Hann said.
Wiswell said cancer survivors are encouraged to register online at relayforlife.org/johnstown or call 1-888-227-6446, ext 3213, for information.
A 5:30 p.m. survivor dinner will be held prior to opening ceremonies July 12. All cancer survivors and caregivers are invited to attend.