By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY -- Hundreds of people around the county are gearing to walk a day and night in support of those battling a life-threatening illness.
In signs of solidarity across several cities, friends are pledging early support for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, an annual event that raises money for cancer research and cancer patients.
The organization is hosting the local effort as part of an international movement that has raised $4.5 billion since its launch in 1985.
"The kickoff gets people inspired and ready to fight back against cancer in our community," said Tracy Henkes, unit executive director of the American Cancer Society. "It's an opportunity to bring them all together to celebrate survivors, remember those we've lost and fight back as a community."
Since October the group has held kick-off celebrations in Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound and Stuart to build enthusiasm for the three relays planned for next April and May.
Beginning in April, participants can select a city and date of their choosing to participate in an 18-hour walk to build solidarity and show support for cancer patients and survivors.
Relay For Life of South Martin County, chaired by Tom and Ronda Balling, will begin at noon on Saturday, April 20 and continue through 6 a.m. on Sunday, April 21.
The Jensen Beach Relay For Life, chaired by Kimberly Perron, will be held the following weekend, kicking off on Friday, April 26 at 6 p.m. and ending on Saturday, April 27 at noon.
The final event, the Central Martin County Relay For Life, chaired by Paula Richmond, is set for May 4-5.
Organizers expect as many as 500 people in about 50 teams to participate locally.
"The 18 hours are symbolic of a cancer's patient journey through cancer, with the day and the night representing the hope, darkness, loneliness, questions, illness progress and everything they go through," Ms. Henkes said. "They wonder how they're going to make it through the night. That happens to the participants who walk through the night. They get tired; they want to stop, but then the sun rises."
Cancer survivors and their families are honored guests at each of the events, who organizers encourage to participate and tell their stories.
"People who have been newly diagnosed can share in the hope that they, too, can beat this," Ms. Henkes said.
The unique event, the local agency's biggest fundraiser, also offers entertainment, food, games and inspirational stories.
For more information or to register a team for the relay, visit www.relayforlife.org.
To volunteer, call (772) 287-7467, Ext. 5253.