SEBRING - Like many who become affected, there weren't many symptoms and for Jeanne Brown it started with a simple check-up with her doctor.
That physical in July 2013 led to a diagnosis for uterine cancer and an eventual hysterectomy surgery, but most importantly, a renewed outlook for life.
It was that experience that has gotten Brown involved with the 2014 Highlands County American Cancer Society Relay For Life events and hoping many others around the county will also take part in an event so integral to funding cancer research.
The American Cancer Society Relay For Life movement is the world's largest fundraising event geared to end cancer around the world. Money raised by the approximately 4 million participants in over 20 countries helps the American Cancer Society by supporting education and prevention efforts, funds cancer research and provides free information and services for people with cancer who need them.
Relay For Life events usually take place overnight, lasting up to 12 hours. Teams raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society before, during and after the event where they trade off walking laps. At every Relay event, people commemorate others who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost to the disease and commit to fight cancer in their communities.
Three Highlands County Relay events are scheduled: Lake Placid, 6 p.m., April 4 to 7 a.m., April 5 at the Lake Placid High School stadium; Sebring, 6 p.m., April 12, to 7 a.m. April 13, at Fireman's Field; and 6 p.m., May 2, to 7 a.m., May 3, at the Avon Park High School stadium.
Each Relay includes a 9 p.m. opening day Luminaria Ceremony, at which votive candles are lit inside of personalized bags to shine a light on the fight against cancer. During the ceremony, candles and torches also brighten the way for Relay For Life walkers throughout the night.
Brown, 63, whose husband, Glenn, 65, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, is encouraging everyone who can to get involved because the Relay makes such a difference. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that Relay For Life events have raised nearly $5 billion since it began in 1985.
"I'm taking part again. We need to be aware of the people that have been affected by this," said Brown, a Sebring resident who works as a cosmetologist. "This is a way to support people that have had cancer; this is a way to encourage them. Everyone is united in one goal: support awareness of how tragic cancer can be and how to prevent it."
Prior to the event days, there are ways to get involved with Relay: fund-raise and walk in one of the Highlands County Relays, three of the over 5,200 Relays across the United States and 24 around the world or participate virtually at www.RelayForLife.org; make a donation in the fight against cancer; volunteer to be a Relay For Life team leader, chair, committee member or event volunteer; invite a cancer survivor to come to a Relay and be recognized.
Lee Ann Hinskey, Relay For Life specialist for the American Cancer Society Florida Division, said about $163,000 was raised in Highlands County through Relay last year; about $70,000 in Lake Placid, $55,000 in Sebring and $38,000 in Avon Park. She said under the theme "Finish the Fight," the main focus of the event is getting people to become aware of what the American Cancer Society can do to help with those with cancer and their families and friends.
"It lets people know about the patient services we have available. A lot of this is about educating the public about what the American Cancer Society can do in addition to medical care," said Hinskey, who's based in Sarasota.
Locally, as many as 60 teams will participate in the Relay. In 2013, Sebring had 26 teams, this year 15; Lake Placid had 22, this year 16; and Avon Park had about 15 in 2013, 20 for 2014.
Ginger Keimel, publicity chairwoman for the Lake Placid Relay For Life, said teams there were down from last year due to a few format changes in the event by the ACS. Despite the lower team turnout, the relevance of the Relay doesn't change.
"We're hoping to get more closer to the (Relay) time. It's important, " she said.
The first Relay For Life event began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt walked and ran around a high school track in Tacoma, Wash., for 24 hours and raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society,
For information or to get involved in Highlands County Relay For Life, call (863) 214-8166 or see www.relayforlife.org and search the city.