Ready to Relay: Teams are set for battle against cancer
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 14, 2014 1:46 PM
Dorothy and Samuel Campbell hold the designs that the M&M Cancer Survivors Team will use for its campsite at this year's Relay for Life.
The Jesus train will offer rides to visitors at this year's Relay for Life. It's part of the Purtty Team's theme of "All Aboard For a Cure For Cancer."
If you see Santa and his elves around the Christmas tree in the summer, Dorothy and all her friends from "The Wizard of Oz" or Scooby-Doo's van, you know you're in the right place for some serious fundraising to fight cancer.
Visitors to Relay for Life see all this and a lot more at each year's event.
Most teams start planning their campsite theme months before the Relay. And some are very secretive about it, letting only the privileged know what it is before the day the campsite is actually set up.
But it's all in fun and all for a good cause -- to find a cure for cancer.
This year's campsite will be special for one member of the Purtty Team. It will embody the spirit of Frances Thornton's late husband, Phil.
The theme will be "All Aboard For a Cure for Cancer." The campsite will resemble a train station, complete with a ticket booth.
A train will give rides to those attending the Relay for Life. And that train is what is so special.
"My son-in-law's daddy had a train when my son-in-law was little," Mrs. Thornton said. "My son-in-law came to me and asked what I was going to do with my late husband's pickup sitting out in the yard. I told him it would probably sit out there and decay.
"He said his daddy and he would fix up the train for our relay campsite and he asked me for the pickup's motor to put in the train.
"That train with Phil's pickup motor in it will make Relay really special to me this year. A part of him will be there with us."
In past years, the Purtty team has had several beach-themed campsites and some mountain-themed ones.
Last year its members won the campsite award with their Christmas theme. The campsite featured Christmas trees and everyone was dressed up as Santa and his elves. Mrs. Thornton was Mrs. Santa.
Team members never quit planning for their Relay campsite.
"We plan all year long," Mrs. Thornton said. "We just keep planning from one year to the next through the year."
The team came about when Mrs. Thornton and her son, Carl, fought cancer at the same time.
"He had leukemia and I had lymphoma at the same time," she said. "We did our treatments together. He had a bone marrow transplant and he did well. Then all of a sudden, it went bad and he died Oct. 29, 2003, at the age of 34.
"He had so many friends from all over and they didn't call each other by name. But they'd say, 'Hey Purtty. When we were talking about a team name, I knew it couldn't be nothing by the Purtty team."
Members of the M&M Cancer Survivors team start planning their campsite nine months in advance.
"We all sit down together in August and come up with an idea each year," said team member Tanya Blount.
The team doesn't try to keep its campsite theme a secret, although each team competes for a best campsite award every year.
"It's fine if others know what our campsite will be because everybody's going to do something around the Relay theme each year and everybody's going to be different anyway. But the majority of the teams really get into it."
That doesn't mean that the M&M team members don't care about winning the award.
"Every year we shoot for a campsite award," the 55-year-old Ms. Blount said. "One year we won a campsite award with a 'Clowning Around' theme. Last year we also won the spirit award because we were so hyped."
The team has had a lot of members in past years, but only seven this year because each year, some die from their cancer.
"We came up with our name when we were sitting around trying to think of one," Ms. Blount said. "We thought there are so many different colors of cancer and so many colors of M&M candies and that's how we came up with our name."
Ms. Blount will never forget that first year when the theme was "Reaching for the Stars."
"We decorated our campsite like a big cloud with a poster in front of people actually climbing up and reaching for the stars of hope for a cure for cancer," she said. "And we all wore shirts with stars on them."
Another year the M&M campsite looked like a scene out of "Wizard of Oz," complete with a yellow brick road. The team dressed up as characters from that movie, including Dorothy, the bad witch, the scarecrow, the lion, the tin man and several munchkins.
"When we did a clowning around theme, we all dressed as clowns and our campsite was fixed up like the circus," Ms. Blount said.
This year, the campsite will resemble a boxing ring.
"We're going to dress up like boxers so we can knock out cancer," she said. "We will even have a referee."
Although the cancer survivors plan out every detail of their campsite each year, they get help building it from Daniels and Daniels Construction Co.
"We are so happy when we finally see the completed campsite," Ms. Blount said. "We go out the day of the Relay about 8:30 a.m. and that's where we stay until noon or 1 p.m. the next day."
Members of TA Loving Trailblazers Relay team could tell you the theme for their campsite this year, but then they would have to kill you. Just like every other year, it's a secret until the night of Relay.
Last year the team took the second place campsite award with its theme "Solving the Mystery for a Cure."
"It was a Scooby-Doo cartoon theme," Teresa King said. "We actually had the construction guys build a facade that went all the way around our tent and the girls painted it as the van from the cartoon. We even had working headlights because that's the first thing you see in the cartoon."
Team members dressed as characters from the cartoon -- Daphne, Velma, Fred, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo.
One year the team did a Western theme.
"We decorated our campsite like a Western jail," the 46-year-old Ms. King said. "Everybody wore cowboy hats and stuff like that and we really looked western.
"Our theme was 'Wanted: A Cure for Cancer.' We had wanted posters up and each had a different cancer symbol and what it stands for. We also had a hitching post and two horse cutouts."
The team starts coming up with ideas for the following year's campsite right after each year's Relay.
"When we come back to work after the Relay, everybody starts giving out ideas," Ms. King said. "In January, we try to lock one in so we know what we need to order and what we can make ourselves. We try to make almost everything ourselves. Then in February, we start looking for costumes. But we try to keep our theme a secret."
The Trailblazers go to such lengths for their campsite to bring in people to raise money to find a cure for cancer.
"We have to get their attention some way," Ms. King said. "Everybody has a friend or family member that cancer has affected in some way, but we get so busy in our daily lives that we don't think about it. We're trying to reach out to people who come to the Relay and people who donate to the Relay. Whatever it takes to make them a part of the cause."
The team is foremost trying to make a difference and raise money to fight cancer. But it's also nice to win a campsite award for all their work.