This year’s Relay for Life is especially meaningful for members of Team Mel.
The largest Relay team consisting of about 60 members, Team Mel was formed in memory of Melanie DeLoach Wilson, who passed away at 55 after her fourth battle with cancer.
“She passed away on April 12, 2018, and the day of Relay will be the one-year anniversary of when she passed away,” said Wilson’s niece, Sara Johnson, who is a member of Team Mel. “It’s just really an awesome thing, because all of our family and friends are all coming in from all over — some from Mississippi, some from Arkansas. We’re all going to get to be together, so that means a lot for us because that day will be a hard day anyway, and we all want to help any way we can and fundraise to end cancer.”
Relay for Life of Leflore and Carroll County will be held from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday at the Leflore County Civic Center.
The event raises money for the American Cancer Society, which is the largest funder of cancer research outside of the federal government.
“Our goal last year was to raise $50,000, and we over exceeded that goal with between $69,000 to $70,000,” said Christie Huff, event leader. “That’s just amazing, and we are so thankful for that.”
Each Relay for Life team aims to raise $500 to $1,000 throughout the year by selling T-shirts, holding bake sales and other events, such as Donuts with Disney.
Huff, who is a licensed practical nurse and patient care coordinator at Sunflower Home Health working in Leflore and Carroll counties, said the group hopes to raise $75,000, and added, “I feel confident that we will reach that goal.”
This year’s theme is Colors of Hope in honor of the different colors of cancer awareness ribbons, such as pink for breast cancer or blue for colon cancer.
“We are recognizing that all cancer matters,” said Huff. “In Leflore and Carroll counties, we have been hit with childhood cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer” among others.
Huff said Team Mel is inspiring to her.
“What’s amazing is that they lost somebody to cancer, but yet they are coming to celebrate life,” she said. “These guys are so wonderful in their faith and also in the love that they have for their family and for others in the community.”
Johnson said her aunt was “such a fighter and an inspiration to so many.”
“She never acted like she felt bad, even at times when she did. She is missed so much,” Johnson said. “Mel’s favorite Bible verse was, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ Philippians 4:13, and if you ever asked her if she was worried or if she was OK, she would say, ‘Yes, I have a peace about everything that only God can give.’ Mel had the strongest faith.”
Team Mel has been selling T-shirts and bracelets to raise money for Relay, which is an event the members are passionate about.
“It’s something very near and dear to our hearts,” said Johnson. “I’m really just excited about getting to be a part of it and helping to fundraise to end cancer and to be with all of our family and friends.”
Relay for Life will start with a survivor and caregiver dinner, followed by the opening ceremony.
The walk will begin with a survivors’ lap and then a caregivers’ lap.
The event will feature guest speaker Randa Martin, who is a cancer survivor. Christine Hemphill, foundation director and physician liaison at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, will speak, and Ashley Griffin of Greenwood, the 2018 Miss Black Mississippi, will serve as emcee.
Sonz of God, a Greenwood gospel group, will perform at the event, and the J.Z. George marching band’s drumline will play.
There will be food vendors, such as Drake’s BBQ, and Relay teams will also be offering items, such as a candy apple fundraiser and a lemonade stand.
Relay will have a kids corner. For a $5 wristband, there will be inflatables, face painting and games for children and toddlers.
The luminaria ceremony will held at 9 p.m. The ceremony features candlelit decorated bags around the track. The bags are in honor of those who have survived cancer or those who have recently been diagnosed with the disease or in memory of those who have died from it. The bags are $10 each and can be purchased in advance or at the event.
Huff, who has been involved with Relay since she was 18, said this is her favorite part of the event.
“It’s surreal. You know that cancer is real and affects many, many lives,” she said. “Luminarias are personal, too. It’s not just a bag with a design or an in memory or in honor of. It’s actually somebody’s heart on display. It’s so much more than just a bag.”
This year’s Relay will be dedicated to Ophelia Hall, who passed away in December at 89. Hall was the oldest working volunteer for Relay for Life and began her work in 1998 when the local event had just started. Hall oversaw the survivors’ dinner. She would send out invitations to local cancer survivors each year and collect dona
tions for the meal from such donors as Greenwood Market Place, Sonic, Fred’s and Steven’s Bar-B-Q.
“She was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” said Huff. “My goal is to be just like her and to be that hard working. ... She touched so many lives.”
The funds raised from this event will not only go to cancer research, but the money also benefits people on a local level.
“Local oncologists benefit. (The American Cancer Society) helps with information, research and also anything like medications patients need and can’t afford,” said Huff, who also said she knew someone who received help from the American Cancer Society getting to and from their chemotherapy treatments in Jackson.
Huff said the money also goes to research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson. The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Jackson recently opened and offers 32 guest rooms for those with cancer and is located near treatment centers in the area.
For more information about assistance from the American Cancer Society, call 1-800-227-2345.
To register a team or make a donation to the Relay for Life of Leflore and Carroll County, visit www.relayforlife.org/leflorems.
• Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.