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Relay for Life draws another huge crowd

Posted: Tuesday, Jul 16th, 2013

Wearing purple shirts, cancer survivors are front and center during the Relay For Life of Upper Illinois Valley opening ceremony on July 14. Members of Mendota VFW Post 4079 and Boy Scout Troop 102 presented the colors to kick off the 2013 event at Lake Mendota. * * * Holly Full of Mendota tells her story during the opening ceremony.

MENDOTA – They came to Mendota by the hundreds – 574 to be exact. At least that is how many people signed up prior to the Relay For Life of Upper Illinois Valley (RFLUIV) event held on July 13 at Lake Mendota.

Co-chairs Nancy Jackson and Jesse Arellano headed up this year’s Relay, and Jackson said the number of participants and the number of teams (59) both broke records for the Mendota Relay. Although the final tally of proceeds had not been determined by Monday, Jackson said the event raised $154,001.

Held for the third time at Lake Mendota, Jackson said a number of first-time activities were added to this year’s event. One of the new features was a free survivor’s meal prior to the Relay donated by Cindy’s on 34 and Olive Garden of Peru. The meal was served in a tent donated by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Also new this year was a butterfly release following the opening ceremonies and a Ms. Relay Contest, emceed by Don Goy, later in the evening. Jackson said the Ms. Relay Contest was open to one guy from each Relay team and the inaugural winner was John Dossett, who was one of about seven contestants.

Another new addition this year was an inflatable outdoor movie screen, which was donated to RFLUIV by Gary Dahl.

The opening ceremony kicked off at 6 p.m. with presentation of the colors by members of Mendota VFW Post 4079 and Boy Scout Troop 102 and singing of the National Anthem.

Local survivor, Holly Full of Mendota, was asked by Jackson to share her story during this year’s opening. Full said her journey with cancer began in September of 2004 when her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “At that time myself and our two sons became caregivers,” Full told the crowd. “On June 19, 2006, my husband lost his battle with cancer.”

Full said she and her sons had to try to get their lives back on track and “go on living without someone very important in their lives.” In October 2007, Full went to the doctor for a check up and was told she had follicular lymphoma (non-Hodgkins). “The first words out of my mouth were, ‘My boys don’t deserve this,’” she recalled.

Full said her doctor quickly explained that pancreatic cancer and lymphoma were very different. “But at the time, it didn’t matter. I was just told I had cancer.”

Full underwent numerous rounds of chemotherapy and on Dec. 6, 2011 began stem cell treatments. She was released from the hospital on Dec. 23, just in time for Christmas that year. Eighteen months later, on June 17, 2013, Full learned that her tests all came back clean. “My doctor told me I am completely normal,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “So, he corrected himself and said my body is normal. My new ‘birthday’ is Dec. 6. I will be 2 years old this year, but the good thing is I am housebroken and I can feed myself.”

Prior to the Relay, Full admitted that she never thought she would agree to speak in public. “I never even took speech in high school, I always took chorus even though I couldn’t sing,” she laughed. “But I want to enjoy life now and do some things I never thought I would do. One of them is speaking in public.”

Although the main purpose of Relay For Life is to raise money, the events also offer a sense of community and provide support through the sharing of stories. Jackson, who is also a survivor, said people diagnosed with cancer often feel very alone. “So, when you are able to connect with others, it really helps,” she explained. “It keeps everything in perspective.”

Jackson said following this year’s Relay, she has been overwhelmed with e-mails and texts and she also received flowers from the survivors group as well as another bouquet sent anonymously. “The vase was a white angel and the note thanked me for all the hard work,” she said. “That really got to me.”

But Jackson emphasized that none of this would be possible without tremendous support from individuals and businesses in the RFLUIV area as well as the City of Mendota. She said more than 60 volunteers showed up to help with set-up and many of them returned early the next morning for take down. “We were all tired and wanted to go home and sleep,” she chuckled. “This was the largest number that has ever helped and we were very grateful.

“It really takes a village to do all this,” Jackson added. “That’s what is nice about being in a city like Mendota. We got so much support. It really touched me and I’ll never forget the generosity we received.”

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