The first time Dianne Nelson went to a Relay for Life was after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002.
"That first time, all I could do was sit in the stands and watch," Nelson said. "The hope luminarias across the way were very, very meaningful to me."
Nelson vowed that she would return to the relay in subsequent years as a participant. Today Nelson is a cancer survivor and has walked in the past two Relays for Life in Lawrence.
Nelson, of Lawrence, was among 50 people who attended a February American Cancer Society Relay for Life kickoff dinner at Free State High School. Cancer survivors were recognized, and a "ceremony of lights" started the countdown toward this year's relay, which will be June 10-11 at the Free State track.
Relay for Life organizers announced that the goal for this year's relay was to raise $117,000 for the ongoing war against cancer. Last year the relay brought in $112,000.
The kickoff also revealed this year's relay theme, a take-off on the Academy Awards, "A Star-Studded Night at the Relay." The goal is to get 68 teams of walkers on the track this year; last year there were 50 teams with nearly 600 people participating. Team participants try to raise $100 to participate in the nightlong walk.
"I think more people need to be aware of this event and what it is all about," said Cris Aiken, one of the organizers. "It is a celebration of life."
Another organizer, Tina Yates, agreed. "It's important for people to know they can volunteer as little or as much as they can," she said. "We can use all the people we can get because what we're short of is manpower."
For more information about Relay for Life or to enter a team, call Yates at 749-2985.