After losing family members to cancer, this local woman wants people to participate in Relay For Life

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Gwenna Hill (left) and her Father (middle) and Mother (right), Relay For Life 2015. | Courtesy Gwenna Hill

IDAHO FALLS — Cancer has plagued Gwenna Hill’s family for years, claiming the lives of roughly 20 relatives, including her father.

Her father, Tom Harvey passed away two years ago after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. While battling the cancer, Hill said her father was offered an experimental treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. While deciding whether or not to undergo the treatment, he asked Hill for her opinion.

“He said, ‘you know, I think it might be too late for me but If it can help somebody else, I think I should,'” Hill said.

She says her father’s desire to help others inspired her.

“I can’t (help) … with cancer research. But I can help with (Relay for Life),” she said.

Hill now serves as the chairwoman of the Idaho Falls Relay For Life. The local chapter is an extension of the national Relay for Life fundraising program. The relay is a nighttime walking event that helps raise money for the American Cancer Society. It revolves around the three tenents of celebrating survivors, remembering those who have passed and fighting back against cancer.

Hill wants to boost attendance to the local event.

“When I first participated in Relay For Life in Idaho, it was in 2008 and the track was packed with people,” Hill said. “It’s not like that now. Now there are barely enough teams to go around the track.”

She was disappointed in last year’s turnout because when not many people show up there aren’t many Luminaria bags. Luminaria bags are one of the ways Relay For Life raises money for the American Cancer Society. They cost $10 and people decorate the bags to remember someone who has passed to cancer or support someone who is fighting cancer or is a survivor.

Luminaria bag | Courtesy Relay For Life Facebook

During the nighttime events, the lights at Thunder Stadium at Bonneville High School are turned off and tea lights are lit and placed inside the bags.

“So it’s dark except for those bags that line the track. And then we walk a lap in silence,” Hill said.

Up in the stadium bleachers, luminaria bags are set up to spell “Hope” and during the lap, the bags are switched to spell “Cure.”

“It’s very humbling. It’s really nice except for if there aren’t a lot of people there, there aren’t a lot of luminaria on the track,” Hill said.

To help get people there this year, the Idaho Falls Relay For Life will have a silent auction. The main prizes in the auction are two African safaris. There will also be a variety of other items up for auction.

Hill said different teams volunteer to set up booths with items for sale such as food or crafts. All the proceeds from the booths and the silent auction go directly to the American Cancer Society.

Idaho Falls Relay For Life will also host live entertainment throughout the event.

This year’s Relay For Life is at Thunder Stadium in Idaho Falls on June 21. The event will kick off with the survivor dinner at 4:30 p.m. The dinner is free and open to all cancer survivors. It’s sponsored and catered by Ingredion and Texas Roadhouse.

Survivors will also receive gift bags filled with donated items from local businesses.

The auction, booths and other activities start at 6 p.m. and go until 10 p.m. when the Luminaria Ceremony begins.

“That is probably the most special part of the night for most people,” Hill said.

The event will run until midnight.

“We’ve got some fun stuff from the community. It’s a community event. It’s free to come in,” Hill said. “We’ll show them a good time and raise some money to help cure cancer.”

Visit the Idaho Falls Relay For Life web page here.

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