The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in La Porte County, currently in its 24th year, may have looked radically different from events in past years, but it was nevertheless filled with messages of love, support and encouragement. Spread out across the lawn in front of La Porte Hospital were rows of luminaries - two semi-circles of luminaries to represent the 238 individuals who were diagnosed with cancer at La Porte Hospital in 2019.
Each of those luminaries were decorated with a colored ribbon to signify the particular type of cancer those patients were diagnosed with: white for lung cancer, pink for breast cancer, purple for general cancer, etc.
The annual event, which typically takes place at the La Porte County Fairgrounds, was morphed into something much different this year, with a parade of cars - each one carrying people whose lives have been touched by cancer - from the fairgrounds to the La Porte Hospital campus, for a luminary ceremony and celebratory walk in support of those battling the disease.
Marilyn Belkiewitz, a Survivorship Nurse with the La Porte Hospital oncology program, was happy to be at the event.
“We are proud to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life,” said Belkiewitz. “We’re here today to honor those whose lives have been touched by cancer.”
Relay for Life is traditionally the largest annual fundraising event to benefit the American Cancer Society, with the funds raised typically being used for a variety of purposes, from cancer research to programs that directly support cancer patients and their families, providing rides when needed to facilitate treatment and many other things.
“Their work is imperative to helping those struggling with cancer to find their way through to becoming survivors,” said Belkiewitz.
On hand to oversee the ceremonies were La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody and Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel.
Dermody says the event hits particularly close to home for him.
“As a cancer survivor myself, this really means a lot to me, to try and support those people who may be going through the most difficult fight of their lives,” he said.
Dermody credits the love and support of his wife with being instrumental in his battle against cancer.
“I was very lucky to have the support of my wife Jackie during that time in my life and we want to be there for everybody else,” he said.
Janet Wartman, Senior Community Development Manager for the American Cancer Society, said that the luminary ceremony was chosen because it holds a great deal of emotional impact.
“Normally, we have a full, 24-hour Relay for Life event,” Wartman said. “Due to Covid-19, that event was cancelled, but we still wanted to honor our survivors as well as those who have fought against this disease and lost. We thank La Porte Hospital for allowing us to use their lawn to help make this happen.”
“We all walk this path together. This event means hope,” said Wartman.
Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel feels that the event showcases the importance of a strong sense of community.
“This is just a great example of our community, coming together to share experiences and to support not just those who have fought this battle personally, but to recognize also those family members and caregivers who are instrumental in this battle. It’s just a great sense of community spirit and dedication,” he said.
Dora Talbot, a La Porte resident and recent cancer survivor herself, was attending her first Relay for Life event with her son, Malachi.
“I’m learning a lot and I really appreciate all that the American Cancer Society does. They were a tremendous help to me and my family and I really appreciate all their support.”
“I’m just so happy that my mom is done with her chemotherapy,” said Malachi.
“This is a great event to attend,” said Carolyn Hunt of La Porte, who has fought a nine-year battle with cancer. “It’s a great activity for the community to support.”