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Updated: 11/25/2013 10:50:18AM

ICEolate Cancer

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Melissa Pittman, the Relay For Life Team Retention Chairman, talks to those who attended the kickoff event for the event Tuesday night at the ARP Church.


Gerald Tucker awards a tent to the Floral Lakes team Tuesday at the Relay For Life kickoff event. He said no team seems to work as hard for this event every year. Last year the team raised more than $7,200 in the event. Behind him is this year's Co-Chairman Emily Clark.


The 2014 Relay For Life Co-Chairman Emily Clark talks to those to attended Tuesday's kickoff at the Associated Reformed Baptist Church in Bartow.


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June Kloster, a resident of Floral Lakes, is a 30-year cancer survivor. Her husband, Fred, was a victim of the disease. To help others not have to go through the two versions of pain she has experienced, she takes part in the Relay For Life every year.

“My daughter, Fred and I took part in this every year and we appreciate what (this city) does,” she told a packed house at the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church at the Relay For Life kickoff Tuesday.

The Floral Lakes team, which ranked second last year in fundraising for the Bartow Relay For Life, was recognized at the opening by Bartow’s long-time top fundraiser (called the “bomb diggity fund-raiser” by Emily Spath Clark), Gerald Tucker. Floral Lakes raised $7,277 for the American Cancer Society, a long way from the $33,001 Tucker’s team raised, but, he said, no one puts in as much as they do.

“No one works harder each year like the Floral Lakes team does,” Tucker said. For this they were awarded a tent and Kloster was called up to receive it for the team.

There are a couple of new things to this year’s event. One is the Lake Wales and Bartow Relay For Life events will be combined into one event. Chairwoman Emily Spath Clark said there is a distinct advantage to joining the two events. While Bartow for more than 10 years has ranked among the top fundraisers in the state for the American Cancer Society, combining Lake Wales with it can only make the effort stronger. Last year Lake Wales had 15 teams participate and raised $17,000. Bartow had 61 teams that raised $143,000.

“Bartow and Lake Wales was 23rd in the state of the Florida,” Clark said. “In Polk County, we know how to relay and this year we’re shooting to be in the top 15.”

It’s a lofty goal when one considers the populations of two cities versus the populations of towns like Tampa, Jacksonville and alike which also have large Relay For Life events.

The reason for combining the two events came from the American Cancer Society with combined cities around the state that raise smaller amounts of money with those that raise more money.

“I’m excited to have them,” Spath Clark said.

Also (somewhat) new is the event is returning to Memorial Stadium at Bartow High School. With that announcement there was applause. Last year’s event was held in downtown at Broadway Avenue and Main Street.

In addition, at Tuesday’s meeting participants voted on this year’s theme and ICEolate Cancer won.

Why so successful

A reason why the event each year in Bartow is so big maybe stems from how seriously people take the fight to defeat cancer regardless of whether it is friend or family.

After showing a video of the past events in Bartow, Team Retention Chairwoman Melissa Pittman told people she started to get involved when it personally affected her, when her father-in-law was diagnosed. She feared for her daughter, family and friends, she said.

In seeking others to share stories, Rosie Diaz, a member of the Walmart team immediately came to the front.

“It doesn’t matter what your culture is because this affects all of us,” she said. “My culture sometimes can’t get help because we don’t have the documents. I want to take this to more Hispanics and teach all cultures. I want us to double the money we’re planning and with my team members I know we can.”

Martha Jones, a 15-year lymphoma cancer survivor, said what the effort means and said she has to take part. She said she was at Stage 4.

“I take every moment I can to thank God,” she said. “It wasn’t my time and I have to do a lot of time giving energy and get to others going through this.” She said showing you care can go a long way for someone suffering with the disease. “If you know someone young who is going through this, show them love because they need your love.”

Speaking on behalf of co-chairman, Police Chief Joe Hall, Gene Spath said, “When I go home tonight I will pray to see the end of this disease that affects us all.” He said the Relay For Life event that starts on a Friday evening and ends on a Saturday morning, parallels the disease. He compared the coming of night to the diagnosis of cancer and how it gets dark, like not knowing what is next. It ends with sunrise and the hope that the disease will be put in remission and the patient will live and hope that life will go on.

“When you leave tonight, think of permanently ending this,” said Spath. “There is no finish line until we find a cure.”

Teams can now register online. On Thursday there were 24 teams with 73 participants registered. A total of $5,610 has been raised. Relay for Life is one of the largest attended events every year in Bartow. This year it is scheduled May 2-3.

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