While 11-year-old Olivia Glenn may be soft-spoken, her presence at Bartow County’s Relay For Life event will speak volumes. Walking in the benefit’s Survivors Lap on Friday, the Cartersville resident hopes to draw attention to the fact that cancer touches both the young and old.
“I’m walking it with one of my friends,” Olivia said, referring to her friend Rachael, who she met while undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. “... She has leukemia.
“I think there’s not a lot of research in childhood cancer. ... A lot of [people] don’t know how hard it is. I guess I just want them to know what a little of it’s like, [what] kids go through and how it’s harder on kids, because a lot of them have cancer when they’re really little.”
Proceeds garnered on and prior to the Relay For Life event on Friday will support the American Cancer Society, which provides information, offers programs to patients, and funds research for cancer treatments and cures. Months of fundraising will culminate with the benefit, in which team members will take turns walking around the Dellinger Park track in Cartersville. While the event was held overnight in the past, Relay For Life will be conducted this year from 6 p.m. to midnight, with the Survivor Dinner beginning at 5 p.m.
After detecting a lump — initially thought to be a swollen lymph node — under her right arm, Olivia was later diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in July 2014. In the span of 10 months, Olivia underwent four surgeries and received five types of chemotherapy medications at Scottish Rite. Overjoyed that her daughter’s pediatric bone cancer currently is in remission and her prognosis is favorable, Debbie Glenn revealed Olivia’s health will continue to be monitored. Body scans will be conducted until her mid-20s, ranging in frequency from three months to yearly.
For Relay For Life, Olivia and other members — family and friends — of Team Olivia will try to raise $2,000 for ACS. At last year’s benefit, the group — uniting under the same moniker — collected $3,000.
“Our involvement last year was minimal as she was getting chemotherapy treatments during Relay and could not attend,” Glenn said. “[My husband] Matt and I attended Relay For Life last year and rotated driving back and forth from Scottish Rite so one of us could be with Olivia and one of us could be at Relay. Our family set up a booth at Relay last year in honor of Olivia and made it super special, including [the] selling of T-shirts with ‘Team Olivia’ and proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.
“We feel [supporting Relay For Life is] extremely important for the awareness cancer has brought to us and especially for research and support dollars for cancer research. [We] especially wanted to bring to the forefront the awareness for pediatric cancer research. The current federal rate of only 4 percent of research dollars going to pediatric cancer research is inexcusable, and we’re trying to raise more awareness needed for pediatric cancer research dollars.”
In 2014, the Relay For Life effort featured 733 team members and 1,074 overall participants, who generated $239,000 for ACS. Event organizers are trying to generate $244,000 through 2015’s benefit.
“The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is the world’s largest and most impactful fundraising event to end cancer,” said Kristy Montgomery, ACS’s community manager for Relay For Life of Bartow and Floyd counties. “It unites communities across the globe to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action to finish the fight once and for all. Proceeds go to benefit research, but also towards the many programs that ACS provides to cancer patients and their loved ones.
“Our National Cancer Information Center, 1-800-227-2345, is the best place to get information on programs and resources available in Bartow County — everything from assistance with insurance questions to information about cancer itself. Money from Relay For Life helps provide wigs at no cost, right out of the Kennesaw ACS office, which is open from 8:30 [a.m. to] 5 p.m. every weekday. Fundraising benefits programs like Road to Recovery, which provides transportation to cancer patients to and from treatment, and helps provide free room and board at the Hope Lodges around the country.”
With Relay For Life supplying a lifeline of support to cancer patients and survivors, Montgomery encourages these individuals to take part in its survivor-related offerings.
At the beginning of Bartow County’s event, cancer survivors will be treated to a complimentary dinner in which they will be served by medical professionals from The Hope Center and Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers P.C.
While the survivors’ meals are free, they can bring a guest to dine with them for $10. The dinner will be catered by Angelo’s New York Style Pizza & Bistro and consist of chicken fettuccine or baked ziti, rolls, salad, tea or water. Agan’s Bakery will provide birthday cake, and bottled water will be donated by Rite Aid.
“The Survivor Dinner is sponsored by The Hope Center at Cartersville Medical Center, as well as Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers,” said Chase Adams, director of oncology services at The Hope Center. “Physicians and staff from both organizations will be present, serving dinner to over 500 survivors and their families. Many survivors in our community have been able to connect to each other along their journey, and this dinner is a reunion, of sorts. The Survivor Dinner provides an opportunity for cancer survivors to eat and fellowship, while being together in a very unique setting that is catered exclusively to them.”
For Adams and other medical professionals, the Survivor Dinner also is a time to reconnect with patients in a nonclinical environment.
“During the course of cancer treatment, we become intimately involved with the lives of our patients and their families. For both organizations, caring for patients with cancer does not end when their treatment ends,” Adams said. “Being able to offer this dinner allows our caregivers to reconnect with patients who we truly feel have become part of our family. Interacting together, outside of a clinical setting, is very rewarding for our staff. So many of our patients go on to live incredible lives, and we cherish the chance to see them thriving.”
Local organizers also are recruiting individuals to participate in the Survivors Lap at 7:20 p.m. As with the dinner, the initial lap is open to people who are cancer-free, and residents who recently have been diagnosed, are going through treatment or are in remission.
Cancer survivors are urged to pre-register for the dinner and lap, by visiting www.bartowrelayforlife.org. Participants also can sign up for both offerings on-site Friday at 4:30 p.m.
“Our goal with Relay For Life of 2015 is to provide an exciting, memorable event that honors our survivors, remembers those we’ve lost, and promotes the overall mission of the American Cancer Society,” Montgomery said, adding interested individuals still can register online to participate in the overall benefit. “For more than 65 years, the American Cancer Society has been finding answers that save lives — from changes in lifestyle to new approaches in therapies to improving cancer patients’ quality-of-life.
“In fact, no single nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization in the U.S. has invested more to find the causes and cures of cancer. We want our Relay in Bartow to give the community a chance to be a part of that mission, and to enjoy themselves while doing so. We’re looking forward with Bartow Relay — we want to take our event into the future and make it better than ever as we go along, and we want to use our 2015 event as a catalyst to start our upward trend.”