CLARK COUNTY —
A stay-at-home mother with two kids and an active member of the YMCA, Michelle Cunningham has been chairwoman of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Clark County for three years. This is Cunningham’s last year in charge of the event.
“I’m still going to be on committee and volunteer. It’s time for me to let someone else take the reins and try to make it a bigger and better event each year,” Cunningham said.
She said the American Cancer Society likes to have turnover of volunteers to make sure as many community members as possible can be involved. She began volunteering when a friend asked her to help with the event seven years ago.
“Your very first experience is so powerful and so moving, it just kept me coming back. I was hooked from that very first relay,” she said.
Family members, friends and loved ones who have both won and lost the battle to cancer have touched her heart.
“I speak to survivors almost on a daily basis, and I listen to their stories, and I cry with them and it really makes you feel like there is something bigger that you’re doing — that you’re helping and giving back. It warms your soul,” she said.
It is the 19th year for Clark County’s Relay. This year’s event — themed “Carnival Cure” — will be held from 7 p.m. Friday, May 17, to 7 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at Charlestown High School. It’s open to the public.
Planning for the race begins when the new fiscal year starts, which is Sept. 1., Cunningham said. However, the real planning begins the day after the relay in May.
“We raise money year-round. We have planning committee meetings to make sure we are all on the same page,” she said.
Allison Smith, American Cancer Society community representative for the Clark and Floyd counties events, said registration is simple.
“Go to the website and register — everything is done online from now on. Survivors can register online. Caregivers can join as well, or people can sign up as teams, whether family, work group, businesses or friends,” she said.
Smith said one of the goals with this year’s event is to reach more areas of the community.
“We’re trying to continue to make an impact, to spread the word, and to grow in how many survivors come back, how many teams, and just the overall participation in the event as well,” she said.
Smith’s father is a survivor of cancer. She said she enjoys seeing the changes in medicine and treatment year-to-year.
“The fundraisers we do at these events go toward researchers and can make the difference. The treatment my father had to go through 24 years ago is completely different than the same type of cancer patient goes through today,” Smith said. “Seeing that change over that amount of time — I’m not a scientist, but I can raise money.”
The event is focused on survivors, caregivers, volunteers and community members.
“We want to make it a great evening, raise money and fight back against a disease that has taken way too much,” Cunningham said.
The fundraising goal this year is $100,000. She said she hopes community members will see that this is a family event, bring their children and learn about the cause.
Smith said her favorite part of the event is the luminaria service at 10 p.m.
“To be a part of it, it’s just a moving experience,” She said.
Cunningham said there are three primary reasons to attend Clark County Relay for Life: To celebrate those who have won their battles, to remember those who have lost and to fight back by raising money and educating the community.
“It’s not too late to form a team. Your very first Relay for Life experience is one that you will never forget,” she said. “It’s very powerful — celebration first, remembrance second, then we fight back.”