Evanston’s Relay for Life provides funding for research, support for survivors

Rachel Janik

As 62-year-old Rose Thomas rounded the first bend of the Relay for Life of Evanston on Saturday, she removed her silver wig.

“That’s the reality of it,” she said after the opening “survivor’s lap.” “When they told me ‘Rose, you’re going to lose all your hair,’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ But when it starts coming out by the handfuls, it does matter.”

More than 200 volunteers spent about 12 hours at the race, which was hosted by Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave. Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the yearly fundraiser has become a “flagship” of the organization, said ACS representative Jenna Kastan.

Kastan (WCAS ’12) said the event raised about $48,000 before the race started Saturday. She said she hoped that number would climb to $50,000 by the night. The volunteers reached $50,049 the next morning.

The event kicked off with an opening ceremony in which teams that raised more $1,000 received recognition. Claire Walker, the community event chair responsible for organizing the relay, spoke after the awards were distributed. She said she volunteered with the relay so there would be “no more early goodbyes.” Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl also spoke, followed by cancer survivor Vera Washington, who discussed her battle with the disease as well as her experience with ACS. Thomas couldn’t attend the relay last year for medical reasons, but “The Rose Warriors,” the relay team her coworkers organized, participated and raised more than $6,000. This year, the team was the event’s top fundraiser, with a final total amounting to $14,486.

Mike Stern, a real estate agent and Thomas’ former manager, was the captain of the team for the second year in a row.

“Rose was a driving force in the workplace and in the community, and the community just rallied around,” Stern said, adding that the relay was personally meaningful after losing his mother to cancer. “It let me do some things that I couldn’t do for my own mother,” Stern said. “I had no idea. I would’ve done it sooner.”

Thomas attended the Relay with her husband, Andrew, and two of her four daughters. She was diagnosed with terminal brain and lung cancer one year ago.

“It just happened, and it can happen to anybody,” Thomas said. “There isn’t a family in America that hasn’t been affected by cancer.”

Although cancer can be a difficult reality to face, events such as Relay for Life provide valuable support for patients, Thomas added.

“When they diagnosed me last year, they gave me six months to live, but here I am after over a year, still kicking around,” she said.

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