The co-chairwomen for the American Cancer Society’s 2014 Relay for Life of Pope and Yell counties share something with almost every other Relay participant — their lives, and the lives of their families, have been touched by cancer.
Chairing the fundraising event this spring are Russellville residents Tracy Roberts, who returns for her second year as co-chairwoman, and Leigh Ann Veach, who was chairwoman of last year’s luminaria committee.
This year’s event will be held April 25-26 at the Pope County Fairgrounds in Russellville.
Roberts’ involvement with Relay for Life began more than a decade ago, several years after cancer first touched her family.
“My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2000 and passed away in April. This was the first time that anyone in my family had been diagnosed with cancer,” Roberts said.
“In August of 2001, my dad was diagnosed with a very rare form of kidney cancer. After his death on Feb. 15, 2002, my sister and I decided to get involved in Relay for Life.”
The sisters organized a Relay for Life team, with help from their colleagues at Crawford and Center Valley elementary schools, where they were both teachers.
“The next year my family took another hit when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer,”
Roberts said. “Thankfully, she has been cancer-free for over 10 years now.”
During that time Roberts has changed schools. She now teaches art at the Upper Elementary 5th Grade but the Center Valley team remains.
“When I switched schools in 2005, my Center Valley family kept my original team going and became one of the highest fundraising teams in the area,” she said.
Roberts started a Relay for Life team at Upper Elementary 5th Grade, and that team is still active. Roberts then joined the planning committee for the local relay in 2011, becoming co-chair when the 2013 Relay for Life kicked off its activities in the fall of 2012.
Veach also joined the planning committee in 2011, after moving from Harrison to Russellville as clinical dietitian at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. She previously had been involved with the Boone County Relay for Life through her work at the Boone County Health Department, although she had experience with Relay for Life in high school, as well.
“I had been part of a team when I was in high school and thought it was a great cause and agreed to be captain,” Veach said.
“Our team had so much fun that year and it was a great experience being at Relay and seeing so many people come together to show support for the fight against cancer. I got to visit with so many people that year. I enjoyed hearing their stories about why they chose to be involved or who they were supporting, and I knew I wanted to stay involved and be a part of the fight against cancer.”
While working at the health department, Veach was asked to serve as captain of the office team. The following year she was invited to join the Boone County planning committee and served as team development chair.
Like Roberts, Veach has a family connection with cancer.
“My grandfather is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed 10 years ago. Luckily, it was caught early and has been treated and managed well, but it’s still nerve-wracking every time he goes for a checkup,” Veach said. Her connection with cancer through friends and family has grown since she joined the local planning committee, she added.
“A great-uncle was diagnosed this past year with colon cancer, and I have a friend from college that is now a breast cancer survivor after being diagnosed in her 20s,” Veach said. “A very close family friend passed away recently after battling prostate cancer for several years. My dad’s mother also passed away from cancer when he was in college.”
Roberts and Veach will be joined at the local Relay for Life by hundreds of other participants, including survivors, caregivers, team members and other supporters of the fight against cancer.
The relay will begin with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m., followed by the survivor lap. At that time, all survivors at the event make the first lap around the track. Then, everyone at the relay is invited to join the survivors for the next lap. From that point forward, teams are urged to have at least one member walking on the track until closing ceremonies at 7 a.m. The exception is during the luminaria ceremony, scheduled at 9 p.m.
A full schedule of games and entertainment is also planned to encourage teams to stay the entire night.
The goal of this year’s Relay for Life is $80,000 and the theme is Dr. Seuss. While there are more than 20 teams registered for the event, Roberts said there is still time for other teams to get involved.
“We would love to have as many teams as possible,” she said.
People interested in forming
a team or getting involved in Relay for Life in some other capacity can contact Veach at email@example.com.
Relay for Life is the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, with more than four million people from more than 20 countries coming together for the same cause.
“I love being a part of Relay For Life. It’s wonderful to see so many people come out for the same cause, even though each path that brought them there is different,” Veach said.
“Some are there because they themselves are battling or have battled; some are there to celebrate loved ones, while others are there to remember and honor someone lost to cancer. No matter why they are there, the end goal is the same: to find a cure.”