Relay for Life

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Sitting amongst her smiling family members on a sunny afternoon, Lora Tharp of Putnam County is surrounded by the people who have been her Relay for Life teammates for about eight years now.

This year is different, though. This year is her first as a survivor. 

Tharp has always been a member of "The Cook Family Team" – a team that was first started to support her aunt when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the following years, Tharp's sister and sister-in-law were both diagnosed with breast cancer as well.  

This year, the family does not have a team, but they are still at Relay for Life supporting their family's survivors. With her niece sitting on one side and her mother on the other, Tharp said that her connection to Relay for Life goes back to being a part of the event for her aunt and sisters.  

"I would come and buy luminarias for them," Tharp said.  

The luminaria service is a special tradition during Relay for Life. Held every year at nightfall on the track, it is a way to commemorate those who have passed away and honor those who are still fighting the disease. Opal Arnold, another participant of the community, said it is one of the most moving parts of the evening.  

"It pulls your heartstrings. You light your luminarias and it really hits home," Arnold said.  

Like Tharp and so many other participants in the day's events, Arnold has a personal connection to Relay for Life – she lost her older sister 15 years ago to cancer, and her father 14 years ago.

Now, she serves as a co-captain of the "Women and Men of the Moose" team.  For her, Relay for Life functions for several reasons in the community.  

"It makes people more aware of the need for funds to do research and gives everyone a chance to see survivors and hear their stories," Arnold said.  

Awareness is a main goal of the event, and senior co-chair for DePauw, Roddrea Smith, sees the benefits of such an event happening here in Greencastle.  

"Cancer affects Putnam County in so many different ways," Smith said. "The cancer rates here in Putnam County are fairly high, but they're going down in recent years and I think that's largely because of Relay for Life. The funds we raise here today go directly back into the community. Sure a percentage of it goes on to research, but we specifically fund a lot of the programming for Putnam County as a whole."  

Smith also works with senior co-chair Tyler Archer, a resident of Greencastle himself, and Community co-chair Dick Shuck.  While the event is doing very well, Smith said that there are definitely goals for the future.  

"I would like to see more campus and community involvement together, more big fundraisers, things like that are always fun, but really the sky's the limit," Smith said. "The economy hit us pretty hard and if we could bounce back from that and make the numbers that we used to make when we first began, that would be really awesome." 

Tharp said the united effort of the campus and community is something that stands out at this event.  

"It's the thing of the year for the campus and community to get together for the common good," she said.  

Brandi Collins is a community representative from the American Cancer Society who has been involved with Relay for Life since 2007. After her mother lost her battle with stage-four colon cancer in 2005, Collins felt that Relay for Life was where she needed to be. In 2008, she was offered a job. Now, she has been working with Putnam County on the event for three years.  

"It's amazing to see how much the community embraces this event," Collins said. "For the size that Putnam County and Greencastle specifically are, there's no reason why it should be raising this much money and there should be this much participation, but when you have a community that really cares about an event and you have an issue such as cancer that has affected so many people, Relay gives you that opportunity to put the community and that issue together and everyone just fully supports it and it's incredible."  

Pam Smith, a community member and manager of the Prevo Science Library, is proof of how much the community cares. After being invited to walk by a colleague 11 years ago, she has become part of the 12-year-old "Connected by DePauw" team.  

"I enjoyed it so much that I haven't looked back," Smith said. "It's something little I can do to help raise money, to assist."  

Smith said that this event is a necessity for the county.  

"It's a have-to-have role, you've got to raise money," she said.  

While she would love to see the event grow, she said that would mean that more people would have to be affected by cancer in some way. Her hope is to find "some way we can get people here — but not because they have to be."  

While Tharp's experience with Relay may have started with another family member's journey with cancer, Tharp's role has now changed. Now, what she saw in her aunt has become a token to her of the power of the event. Tharp remembers her first Relay, being on her aunt's support team — it was the first time her aunt had ever gone out in public after she lost her hair and it was the first time Tharp had seen her without a wig.  

"Something in seeing the look on her face . . . her smile was so victorious," Tharp remembered.  

With her family surrounding her in a circle of laughter and chatter, Tharp glows in this support.  It is her day of remembering, but also celebrating, and the day is marked by something even more special that links her experience to her aunt's.  

"Today was my first day coming out in public without my hair or wig on," Tharp said. "I knew it was the day."