Published on April 25, 2019

Raising funds and spirits through Relay for Life

“I got involved in 2012 when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer,” said Caryn Wheeler of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Wheeler, a pharmacy technician at Stoneman Outpatient Center in Sandwich, said she supports the Society’s research for treatments and cures, but is especially drawn to the charity’s efforts to help patients, their families and caregivers. These include providing transportation to treatment centers, arranging nearby housing for patients and families and operating a help/information phone line.

“All the great people who contribute to care of caregivers and patients, I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

Wheeler leads Team Pink, one of about 45 local teams participating this year in the Relay for Life of Cape Cod, which will be held Saturday, June 15, at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in South Yarmouth.  She is the sole Cape Cod Healthcare employee on the team, a group of 14 members who raise funds and cancer awareness year-round via events, such as bowlathons and a cornhole tournament.

The event will start at 10 a.m. and will include a walk for survivors and caregivers, registration for which begins at 4:15 p.m. A survivor lap will precede the walk, which will start at 5 p.m.  After the walk, the Cape Cod Freemasons will provide dinner for survivors and caregivers, said Susie Frost, a community development manager for the American Cancer Society. A luminaria ceremony for everyone affected by cancer will take place at 9 p.m., followed by a closing ceremony.

“I love Team Pink,” Frost said. “They’re amazing. They are hardworking and dedicated.”

A Global Effort

Nearly everyone has been touched by cancer, either themselves or someone they know, Wheeler said. Indeed, one in three Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

The Relay for Life is a global effort organized at the community level, and the events are meant to be both inspirational and fun. It began in August 1985 when Dr. Gordon Klatt raised $27,000 for cancer by walking and running around a track at the University of Puget Sound in Takoma, WA, for 24 hours. The following year, 19 teams participated, and the relay grew from there.

According to the Relay for Life website, the nonprofit has funded $410 million in cancer research grants, as of August 2018; and in 2017, fielded 1.34 million calls for help and information in 2017 and provided nearly 452,000 night of free lodging to patients.

In 2016, the American Cancer Society obtained $391 million of its nearly $808 million income from events, and spent 74.5 percent of its income on programs that year, according to Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that collects information on charities’ income and operation, and rates them on effectiveness and transparency.

Team Pink has raised more than $40,000 in the past three years, Wheeler said, and each year the group has raised and exceeded its annual goal.

“Last year, we raised over $16,000,” she said. “Currently, we’re just over $11,000.”

Check out the progress of Team Pink and other Cape teams.

“We have an amazing team and amazing donors,” Wheeler said. “It’s a lot of work, but we enjoy it.”

Frost, a former volunteer relay liaison, said she expects about 600-700 people to attend this year’s Cape event, now in its 24th year. Last year’s Cape relay raised nearly $165,000, and Society events in the U.S. raised $185 million, she said.

Wheeler said her mother, 76, is still battling cancer, and will be joining her at this year’s Relay for Life.

“We continue to fight for our loved ones, but we fight for yours, too,” she said.