With a goal of almost $75,000 — and with $68,000 in hand and more in the bank to be counted — Effingham County Relay for Life organizers had plenty to sleep on, even if they didn’t get the world record they wanted.
Their final tally was around 1,200 folks in their sleepwear, a little shy of the record 1,600 but perhaps plenty enough for an American record.
“Whether we broke the record or not was not the point,” said Victoria Ten Broeck, community manager for the American Cancer Society. “It was to get the message out to get involved in Relay.”
With the theme of cancer doesn’t sleep, Relay leaders were trying to figure out a new twist on this year’s event.
“We were sitting at our committee retreat over the summer. We were talking about the Relay, it’s overnight and cancer doesn’t sleep,” Ten Broeck said. “(One of our committee members) said, ‘let’s do Relay in our PJs.’ We looked in the Guinness Book of World Records, so let’s try to break the world record and put Effingham on the map.”
Circling the track in her pajamas, and with her two youngest children tucked into a two-seat carriage, Janna Terrell was happy to be taking part in Relay.
“It’s exciting, actually,” she said.
Terrell was a childhood cancer survivor and was a patient at St. Jude’s Hospital, where she received treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma of the bone.
“It’s a very rare cancer,” she said.
Terrell has been cancer-free for 25 years and has four children.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have children,” she said. “They weren’t sure about the effects of the drugs on fertility.”
Friday night’s Relay was her fourth. “We took a few years off,” she said. “But we’re back again.”
Part of Relay’s aim is to raise awareness, especially for early detection. Jason Keeler, the head boys basketball coach at South Effingham High School, is a big fan of Relay, particularly since his cancer was found early and treated quickly.
“For everyone like me, there was someone who wasn’t diagnosed early,” he said. “I didn’t go through so much what I saw others go through. All it took for me was surgery.
“I sometimes don’t feel like a survivor. But what I had could have killed me.”
Keeler had melanoma after years of “fishing and surfing in the sun,” he said. Yet his early detection led to getting it taken care of quickly.
“It’s huge, especially for someone like me, because we’re all exposed to the sun everyday,” he said. “This is something on the outside you can see, so you can detect it. But I still had to get to a doctor.”
The turnout and enthusiasm from the Relay participants was welcome sight for the organizers, as were the clear skies over the Effingham County High School track after days of nonstop rain.
“It was great to see everyone come out in their PJs, even if they’re not on a team,” Ten Broeck said. “This theme was more interactive than years past. Might as well be comfortable while you’re Relaying.”