‘We’ll keep doing this until we put ourselves out of business’; Annual Relay For Life event Friday at Cullman County Fairgrounds

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The annual Relay For Life Survivors’ Breakfast took place Wednesday morning. The Relay For Life Survivors’ Dinner will be this Friday evening at 5 p.m., followed by Opening Ceremonies at 6 p.m. at the Cullman County Fairgrounds. (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)

CULLMAN – Wednesday’s Relay For Life Survivors’ Breakfast saw dozens of cancer survivors and their caregivers come together at Cullman Church of Christ before the 25th annual Relay For Life event gets underway Friday night at the Cullman County Fairgrounds.

One of the event’s lead committee members, Gail Crutchfield, talked about the purpose of the breakfast as a teaser for Friday night’s main event and an opportunity for survivors and their families to celebrate together.

“We invite all survivors in the area along with their caregivers to come together and celebrate being a survivor and to honor their caregivers. We have a speaker, a little entertainment and a breakfast that is sponsored by the Holly Pond Key Club and Civitan Club,” Crutchfield said. “This is the ramp up to our main event on Friday at the Cullman County Fairgrounds, which is Relay For Life, and it’ll be our 25th event here in Cullman County. Jan Pierce and Linda Walker head up this event and organize it for us.”

Crutchfield touched on how Friday night’s events will get started as well as one of the things she is looking forward to most this year.

“Good weather, thank God,” Crutchfield joked. “We’ve been checking every day and it does vary, last year it was cold and wet, but we do it no matter what, rain, shine, cold or hot. We’ll kick off with a 5 p.m. Survivors’ Dinner and it’s sponsored by Cullman Regional and then at 6 is the Opening Ceremony and we’ll have a speaker who is actually a local cancer survivor that has benefited from the services that American Cancer Society provides.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a national organization, but Crutchfield stressed how important its work is to people here in Cullman and some of the ways that the organization impacts them directly.

“Some people will say that ACS isn’t a local organization. Every person who works at Relay For Life in Cullman County is a volunteer; we don’t get paid for what we do, and that money that we raise goes to ACS and they send it back in the form of research, in the form of events, Hope Lodge in Birmingham that people in Cullman County benefit from,” Crutchfield said. “Our speaker for Friday spent six weeks at Hope Lodge saving her a 150-mile daily trip after having chemo. We wouldn’t have as many survivors here today if it wasn’t for the research and treatments and early detection. Getting the word out about early detection is important. Getting the tests done is not fun, sure, but it’s a lot better than getting cancer treatments.”

Crutchfield broke down the schedule of events for this year’s ceremony and said that even after being part of the event since 1997, she is still excited for Friday night

“After our speaker we’ll have a Survivors’ Walk. One unique thing about our event is that during the Opening Ceremony, any survivor who wants to can walk across the stage and give their name and tell us how many years survivorship they are, and it’s a very touching moment of celebration. They’ll get up there and shake their hands and it’s just great to see. Following that survivors will walk the first lap around the track and then we’ll ask the caregivers to walk with them. I’ve been doing this since 1997 and that Survivors’ Walk is why I keep doing this,” Crutchfield smiled.

“That first year, I was amazed at how many people I knew that had cancer but I didn’t know about it as they walked by me smiling and it’s just great. Then we have events throughout the evening and at 9 we’ll do the Luminaria Service which is sometimes even more touching I think than the walk. We’ll ramp things up again with lots of different activities and things to participate in. We have competitions to promote breast cancer awareness called the bra competition and we have one for colon cancer called the boxer shorts competition. Girls wear boxers decorated and the boys wear bras so it’s pretty fun.”

She continued, “We’ll start winding things down at 11:30 with the Fight Back ceremony and our closing and we’ll have another local survivor speak about the importance of the fight against cancer. Then we keep going. We’ll keep doing this until we put ourselves out of business.”

The Relay For Life Survivors’ Dinner will begin at the Cullman County Fairgrounds at 5 p.m. followed by the Opening Ceremony at 6 p.m. All survivors and caregivers are invited to attend.

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