As darkness fell along the beach behind the Marriott Crystal Shores, Melissa Felice and Dr. Loan Lam were busy. Along with a group of volunteers led by logistics chairman Raul Medina, both Felice, the executive director for the Marco Island unit of the American Cancer Society, and Lam, president of the group, were providing “hands on” leadership at Marco Island’s Relay for Life, setting out hundreds of luminaria on the sand.
The luminaria, votive candles inside paper bags, were a struggle to light and keep lit, as a strong breeze blew from the east. Occasionally one of the bags would catch fire in a quick gust of flame. Many of them were inscribed with the name of a loved one, in memory of those lost to cancer, or a tribute to survivors.
“If you look from above, you can see we’re spelling out ‘hope’ with the candles in the center,” said Lam. Many more luminaria lined the walkway along which dedicated relayers circled over and over, “walking the walk” to raise funds to assist those stricken with cancer, and to find new treatments for the disease in its many forms.
Cancer survivors, apparent by their purple t-shirts, walked the “survivors’ lap” at 6:30 p.m., followed by a caregivers’ lap, with emotions running high. The two groups then headed up to for a survivors’ dinner. This was held in the Crystal Shores’ “breezeway,” aptly named as the wind blew through.
Caregiver Don Tews was all smiles, his arm around his wife, 6-year cancer survivor Mary Ann Tews. Along with Lam, Dr. Tim Kerwin, a radiation oncologist with Premiere Oncology, spoke to the group, promoting the new facility on Collier Boulevard adjacent to Physicians Regional. His island connections include his wife Lily Kerwin, who teaches kindergarten at Tommie Barfield Elementary.
While the survivors and caregivers dined on shrimp pasta, grilled chicken, and a berry cobbler, Joan Stewart serenaded them on her violin. Back at the beach, a succession of entertainers took the stage, including singers Frances Quintana, and Larraine Olnovich, who performed her Patsy Cline tribute songs.
The pathway up and down the beach was lined with signs, imparting pieces of information about the fight against cancer, and surrounded by booths of participating organizations and vendors. Under a sign reading, “A world with less cancer is a world with more birthdays,” volunteers Patrich and Jan Zilch passed out information. Across the way, Chris and Mary Quinton staffed the Beach Dogs booth, their location matching their name for once.
A number of relayers, including Mel Ollman and Rebecca Ruth Gill, carried colorful poles calling out the names of the loved ones for whom they were walking. Some, like Medina’s daughter Arianne, 8, didn’t walk at all, but ran as they helped out.
With the event beginning Saturday afternoon and continuing till Sunday morning, some were in it for the long haul. A dozen tents were set up on the beach for those who would stay all night. Felice was one of those, but said she didn’t know if she would actually get to spend any time in her tent. The ACS has set a goal of $205,000 for Marco’s Relay for Life, and with the help of groups including Hideaway Chips Away at Cancer, who have been the leading fundraising team in Florida, she said they expected to reach the goal.
“The response on the last day has been great,” said two-time survivor Mary Tanck. “It was amazing how many people registered just today.”