My niece, Allison Vander Plas, will be returning to sing during the Balloons to Heaven ceremony on Friday. She sang last year and agreed to return for an encore.
My niece, Allison Vander Plas, will be returning to sing during the Balloons to Heaven ceremony on Friday. She sang last year and agreed to return for an encore.
You will notice, as you flip through the pages of this week's Bluff Country Reader, that we are featuring several Relay for Life teams which will gather in Harmony on Friday night to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society. The money raised is used in several areas, which you can read about in my front page story.

This year, Fillmore County has set a goal to raise $128,000 and at press time, the teams had reported nearly $80,000. With "bank night" on Monday night, where teams turn in any donations they have received thus far and there are many opportunities to raise funds during the event, I have no doubt we will reach our goal, or at least come very close.

I love the mantra that we find on the Relay for Life shirts and on many of the informational pamphlets for the event - Celebrate! Remember! and Fight Back!

The Relay for Life activities are grouped into those three different areas.

We celebrate those who are cancer survivors and those who have cared for them during the survivor's tea, an event that kicks off the night. They and the 29 Relay for Life teams, with their members, are celebrated during the first lap of the Relay. The teams are introduced at the opening ceremonies, team photos are taken and together they set off onto the Relay track, walking a path lined with luminaries that are decorated with the names of loved ones who have either survived cancer or who died from the disease.

As the sun begins to set, the focus of the evening turns to remembering those who died from cancer. I'm sure we can all name several friends and relatives who we lost to this disease. A special, poignant event takes place where loved ones decorate helium balloons and send their messages upwards in the Balloons to Heaven ceremony.

Since the Relay has been held in Harmony the past two years, I volunteered to organize this event, thinking it was something simple I could do to help out. Last year, with the help of my family members and a few friends, we sold balloons to Relay participants and community members. Once they wrote their messages onto their balloons, they held onto them until the short ceremony. My niece, Allison, sang a song of remembrance and then, all together, we released our balloons - it was an amazing sight.

I am looking forward to this event again this year. I have yet to write the small piece that will explain the experience, but I've found a small poem that will be read and there will be a short musical selection to follow.

My niece will return again this year and sing Jodi Messina's "Heaven Needed a Hero," which she selected to honor those heroes we lost much too soon. Messina originally wrote the song to honor the young soldiers dying in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the lyrics are just as appropriate to honor those who have lost their battles with cancer.

Of course I am biased, but this talented 14-year-old will bring you to tears with her performance. She performed the same song at a Relay for Life event in St. Peter earlier this summer and I'm so excited to see it live.

The lighting of the luminaries takes place soon after the balloons are released, as the skies darken. The walking path is soon lit by the glowing of the candles and one soon realizes the tremendous impact this disease has had on our families and our communities. As walkers pass the luminaries, they read the names on the bags and acknowledge the loss we have experienced or give thanks for those who are surviving the disease and who are still in our lives.

Seeing those lit luminaries, with walkers passing through their boundaries, is an awesome sight. Even I, who has a decent ability to describe a scene, have trouble putting it into words. I've captured the scene in photos, but the feeling one has when overlooking the Relay grounds does not come through. While there is some sadness, there is also peace, there is also acceptance and there is, most importantly, hope.

The "Fight Back" part of the Relay for Life includes the continued efforts to raise money to fight cancer - which includes the games, the community dinner, the silent auction and live auctions. Individual teams sell products and food items on their campsites. All the money collected that night supports the Relay for Life, continued cancer research and patient support services.

The Bluff Country Newspaper Group is a proud supporter of this event. Several of our staff members have been diagnosed with cancer over the years. We have mourned the loss of some, but are so grateful for the survival of others. Currently, we are praying for improved health for one of our reporters as this person goes through treatment.

As a company, we are not alone. We know this disease touches us all in some way and that is why we are so willing to devote our time and newspaper space to highlighting some of the teams who will be participating in this week's Relay for Life in Harmony.

These teams and their members, in addition to the others we were not able to feature, are all working together to make a difference and we salute you all.

Please consider joining the festivities in Harmony on Friday night. There is a complete list of events in this week's issue. You are all welcome, you do not need to be on a team to participate. There is good food, great music and lots of fun.

Just a few highlights of the night include the survivors and caregiver tea at 4 p.m.; the community supper at 5 p.m.; the survivors' lap at 6 p.m.; the live auction at 6:45 p.m.; Balloons to Heaven at 8 p.m.; a performance by Bob Peters, Randy Long and Russ Guyer at 8:15 p.m.; lighting of the luminaries at 8:45 p.m.

Late night festivities, beginning at 10:30, are the Heads and Tails game, Karaoke Joe, Zumba and bingo!

If one feels like rising early and returning to the grounds, breakfast of French toast and sausages will be served at 4 a.m.

After breakfast, everyone is invited to go outside to take one last lap around the track of the Relay for Life and get inspired to continue to "fight back" against cancer.

My family members and I are spending the night this year and I am looking forward to participating in as many activities as I can. I'm not sure I'll still be awake for breakfast, but I'm excited to give it a try!