Relay for Life

The Gail's Gang team sold their yarn bead strings while walking in the Relay for Life, Friday, June 22, 2012 at Normal Community West High School. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

David Proeber

NORMAL — Courtney Bruning is participating in the 18th annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life of McLean County because she had choices in her breast cancer treatments.

When the LeRoy woman was fighting breast cancer five years ago, she had a lumpectomy and one week of radiation treatments.

“Twenty years earlier, I wouldn’t have had those choices,” Bruning said. “It would have been a mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast) and eight weeks of radiation.

“Without the American Cancer Society funding research, a lot of us wouldn’t have had those choices.”

Bruning spoke Friday afternoon at the Normal Community West High School track after the opening of the relay, a 24-hour event that ends at noon Saturday.

The main purpose of Relay is to honor cancer survivors and those who died of cancer by raising money for research and services. Among somber moments were the 7 p.m. survivors/caregivers lap and 9 p.m. luminaria ceremony when candles were lit to honor those who died and survivors.

“Both my grandpas died of cancers and I didn’t get to see them because they died before I was born,” said Emma Quaid, 10, of LeRoy, one of Bruning’s 31-member relay team, Team Tough.

But Relay also is a party with 2,000 participants walking or running around the track, listening to music, playing games and getting caught up with family and friends. Some participants bring tents and stay overnight.

“We walk the track, we look at the luminarias, we play games like bounce house and Hula Hoop competition, we watch the ‘Idol’ contest,” Emma said. “We have tons of fun!”

“We stay up all night,” said her twin sister, Hannah.

“I was lucky,” Bruning said. “Other people aren’t so lucky.”

“It’s all about helping others,” said Heather Wahls of LeRoy, Bruning’s daughter. In addition to funding research, Relay supports services including wigs, medical transportation and hotel room stays for cancer patients, Wahls said.

Midnight Dogs is a relay team that took its name from an incident several years ago when team members bought hot dogs at midnight — even waking up team member Janet Tennell, 70, of Pekin.

“Relay has something for all ages,” said her granddaughter, Samantha Duffield, 21, of Bushnell.

“It’s something the entire family can do. It’s nice to spend time together,” said Duffield, noting that the team consists of family members who live in several Central Illinois communities.

The team began by honoring the memory of Tennell’s first husband, James Saal, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1992, said their son, Doug Saal of Normal. But the team now honors with luminaries 25 family members who died of cancer or are cancer survivors.

“Our family has been struck by a lot of cancer,” said Tennell, who accompanies friends with cancer to their doctors’ appointments. “This cause is near and dear to our hearts.”

“We actually stay up the whole 24 hours,” said Patty Saal of Normal, Doug’s wife, “We figure people with cancer suffer for a long time. We can do this for 24 hours.”

“And it’s nice for the survivors to see everyone supporting them, whether they know them or not,” Duffield said.

Having fun giving high-fives at Relay were three members of MorphNation, a group of local teenagers who wear full-body Spandex suits. Wearing green suits at Relay were Ethan Henderson, 17, of Bloomington, and Nick Kjeldgaard, 13, of Bloomington, while his brother Mike, 17, wore orange.

While enjoying themselves, they also were supporting Ethan’s aunt, a breast cancer survivor.

“It’s nice to show support,” Nick said.


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