As is the case with many Relay For Life participants, cancer has invaded the life of Mindy Lefevers and her teammates on the Marilyn’s Warriors squad.
Her team was created last year in memory of her mother, Marilyn Woolery, who died Jan. 1, 2012, after battling breast cancer for more than 20 years. Lefevers told me, “Mom wanted to do Relay for years, but life got in the way a lot so she was never able to.”
So last year, Lefevers gathered family and friends to “do it in her memory.”
And while the team has continued its efforts this year in Woolery’s honor, it has more motivation with the passing last week of Lefevers’ uncle, John Grimes. Nine years ago, Grimes was diagnosed with lymphoma and underwent a stem cell transplant. Then last year, after Woolery died, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a precursor to leukemia.
“Our reason to Relay this year is him,” Lefevers said. “We dedicated last year to mom, and when they diagnosed (Grimes) with leukemia, we decided to dedicate this year to him.”
This year, Relay For Life of Pettis County is undergoing some significant changes in an effort to reinvigorate the cancer-fighting fundraiser. In the past, the event ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. as a reminder that “cancer never sleeps,” and the past two years, it was held at the campground on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. This year, Relay begins at 6 p.m. today and runs until midnight at Jennie Jaynes Stadium. Lefevers sees distinct benefits in the changes.
“We don’t have to be there as long, we all know that cancer never sleeps,” she said. “But some survivors can’t do all of that all night. … I’m hoping we’ll have more participants and more participation in more events, even though it will be in a shorter time frame.”
The evening includes themed laps, raffles and other activities to keep the teams engaged. Marilyn’s Warriors will be raffling off a handmade quilt that features a red ribbon, signifying blood cancer awareness, in honor of Grimes. There also will be food items for sale, a silent auction and a live auction at the end of the night featuring auctioneer John Dick.
“He knew my mom really well,” Lefevers said. “Sometimes you have to call in those favors.”
Lefevers’ favorites over the course of the night are the diva contest, featuring male participants in drag, and the luminaria ceremony. Mike Stratton, one of her teammates, transforms into “Daisy Mae,” and Lefevers said once in character, “He is just obnoxious enough to get everyone’s attention.” While the diva contest is “just pure fun,” the luminaria ceremony is more reverent: “It shows you how many have passed away, and how many are surviving.”
Stratton’s wife, Jackie, is one of three cancer survivors on Marilyn’s Warriors; the others are Ada Butterwick and Carla Chambers. Stratton set a personal goal to raise $5,000, which Lefevers said he passed last month. The Strattons were best friends with Marilyn Woolery and continue to maintain their close friendship with her husband, Wayne Woolery, who Lefevers said is the team’s “social butterfly — he goes around and talks to everybody, providing moral support and cheering everybody on.”
Support — moral, spoken and financial — is what Relay For Life is all about. It not only raises funds to continue the never-ending battle against cancer, it also provides a structure for survivors, their families, their caregivers and everyday residents to interact and share experiences.
The Marilyn’s Warriors web page reads: “Our team walks for many different reasons. Each and every one of our team members (has) been affected by cancer in some way. Some of us are survivors. Some of us are/were caregivers, while others have just known and supported a friend or a member of the family with a cancer diagnosis. Many have won, while others have lost and we come together to honor all of them.”
Lefevers said the American Cancer Society “is a really good organization, and Relay is a good way to get involved. People think they are all alone in (their fight against cancer); this is a good way to meet other people who have had the same experience, to commiserate but still laugh and enjoy and have a good time.”