By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Ginger Darwin is a survivor.
She is a survivor because over the last 23 years, she has beaten seven rounds of cancer.
“March 29 was the 23rd anniversary of my first diagnosis,” she said.
Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Darwin had two bone marrow transplants almost 21 years ago. She said doctors gave her a 30 percent chance of leaving the hospital.
“I gave the other 70 percent to the Lord,” she said with a laugh. “I’m fine now.”
Now cancer-free, Darwin said she has spent the last 20 years with the Relay for Life to fight for a cure.
“After my first round of cancer, I overheard some people talking about the Relay for Life,” she said. “This was back when St. Joseph County and Elkhart County were combined events, and it was at Penn High School.”
Ever since then, she’s participated in some form of organizational capacity with the local branch of the event. This year she served as the sponsorship chair, where she contacted individuals and businesses to find underwriters and sponsors for the program.
She said the program gives her courage.
“I bleed purple because that’s the color of the Relay, and that’s the color of a survivor,” she said. “It’s a 24-hour party for hope. We encourage all of the survivors to come out.”
By Relay definitions, a survivor is anyone post-diagnosis with cancer, according to Relay vice chair Theresa Burger. A survivor is not necessarily in remission.
“The first lap after the opening ceremony is for survivors,” she said. “The second lap is for survivors and caregivers. We wanted to emphasize the caregivers this year. They do so much and people don’t realize how vital they are for our recovery.”
Burger, who has spent three years with Relay for Life, became involved because she is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2009, and was labeled “cancer-free” in June 2010.
“I say it over and over again — ‘Everyone knows someone with cancer,’” she said. “Even if your family hasn’t been affected personally, you know someone who has. That’s why we do this.”
The structure of the Relay is a 24-hour walk around a track. Teams that are fundraising camp out on the field of the track, and money continues to come in through the night through various activities. This is the first year for the Relay at Concord High School, Darwin said.
“It’s the perfect venue,” she said. “It’s right in the middle of everything and has high visibility.”
The Relay will feature much more than just walking around the track, according to Burger. From a cornhole tournament to a Mr. Relay Pageant, the Relay has programing for the entire 24 hours.
“We have themed laps, too,” she said.
Laps, including “Favorite Sports Team,” “Dance Around the Track” and “Father/Child” lap Sunday morning, will keep walkers entertained.
“There’s even an ‘Annoying Song Lap,’” Burger said. “If you donate, they’ll stop playing the song.”
Beyond the funny events, the track will also feature the emotional Luminaria Ceremony, where candles are lit around the track to honor those who have fought battles with cancer — and to remember those who have lost.
“The luminary ceremony is beautiful,” Burger said.
With Relays held in 19 different countries and raising money for cutting-edge cancer research, Burger said she hopes that people realize how important it is for everyone to come together over this cause.
“(The Relay) makes me so glad because people are becoming more aware,” she said. “In these tough economic times, it means so much to me to see people giving.”
From the viewpoint of a survivor, the Relay is overwhelming with emotion, Darwin said.
“It’s amazing as a survivor to be in a body of survivors,” she said. “You know, people always ask you, ‘Are you scared it’s going to come back?’ Well, we deal with it if it happens, and we don’t worry about it. We keep on keepin’ on, and we’re trying to help others.”