As the sun set on Saturday evening, the candles were lit in the luminarias that lined the drive at the Lake County 4-H grounds. The Lake County Relay for Life was in full swing with a silent auction taking place on Facebook and organizers milling around, waiting for the luminaria ceremony to be broadcast.
A few survivors walked as they would have in previous years, checking the names on the luminarias and recalling their own journey.
"I'll be on chemo for the rest of my life," said local veterinarian Tom Heirigs.
Diagnosed in 2017 with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer which affects the bone marrow, Heirigs' life now includes weekly doses of steroids as well as the chemotherapy. Like others who are immunocompromised from cancer and chemo, he has concerns these days that wouldn't have occurred to him a year ago, when he was named one of two honorary survivors.
"COVID-19 has me scared shitless," he said.
The pandemic caused by the coronavirus has changed the way many live and do business, and it changed the way in which the Relay for Life was held this year. Instead of a meal and entertainment with people gathering on the 4-H grounds, local organizers planned an event which would minimize the risks.
Community members were invited to drive through to see the luminarias, to listen to the KJAM broadcast of the luminaria ceremony and to bid on auction items online. As the time for the ceremony began, Melissa McCauley, community development manager with the American Cancer Society, was pleased with the way the event was shaping up.
"The auction is going really well," she said, noting that by hosting it on Facebook, they had extended the time of the event. In addition, 283 luminarias lined the drive, which also showed strong support.
Don Hansen, chairman of the Lake County Relay for Life, said he wasn't certain how the modified event would turn out, but he was pleased with the strong community support. He suspects people want to support the event because so many are affected by cancer.
"There are not that many families around that can say they haven't been touched by cancer," he noted.
Both Hansen and his wife have lost parents to cancer, and three other family members have battled it.
The committee announced on Facebook that $6,037.75 had been raised at the event. Of this, $963 was from the silent auction that included 18 baskets.