Relay for Life chair says she sees impact of fundraiser every day

File photo This year’s Relay for Life has 87 registered teams so far, up from last year’s total of 63. The fundraising goal is $125,000, up from last year’s haul of $117,000.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Laurin Stamps had her life ahead of her — a scholarship to Howard University, plans to graduate with a business administration degree.

A doctor’s office visit changed her plans, and her perceptions.

“I thought, ‘How did I get cancer? I’m 18,’” said Stamps, whose Aug. 10, 2006, diagnosis of non-Hodgkins B-cell lymphoma turned her from a would-be college freshman to one of the thousands the Relay for Life was created to help.

Stamps, whose cancer has been in remission since December 2008, is one of two honorary chairs at this year’s fundraising event, set for Friday and Saturday at Ned Houk Park.

Proceeds from the event, which raised $117,000 last year, go to the American Cancer Society for research and recovery programs.

Relay Chair Sheryll Plyler, in her second year in the position, has a goal this year of $125,000. As the director of Plains Regional Medical Center’s cancer center, she sees the money make its impact every day.

“It’s not just drugs and research,” Plyler said. “There are cancer programs we refer patients to. Those programs are part of the support system for patients with cancer, so we deal with those on a daily basis.”

Starting at 6 p.m., each fundraising team will have members walking hour-long shifts until the event ends the next morning. This year’s field of teams was 87 as of Wednesday with more teams possible through late registration. That’s up significantly from last year’s total of 63 teams.

“Sometimes in the past, people said they’d like to, but other things came up,” Plyler said. “I think for whatever reason, people have found the time this year. That’s always a blessing.”

Teams can raise money during the event by offering products and services, or they can fundraise prior to the event — last weekend’s Ride For Life horse ride likely pushed the event over the $100,000 for money turned in so far, Plyler said.

Typically, she said, the relay raises thousands during the event and money trickles in over the next two to three weeks.

One of the fundraisers is the luminaria, a candle inside a paper bag with a message from the purchaser.

Dorothy Nelson, who does publicity for the event, said a group led by Word of God Lutheran Church is trying to get people to bring canned goods to put inside the bag to weigh them down.

In previous years, Nelson said, sand was used in the bags. She said the timing is perfect, with the National Association of Letter Carries food drive set for this weekend.

“Our people could take the stuff directly to the pickup or the food bank,” Nelson said.

Plyler said the amazing thing about the event is the way it lets people see first-hand how cancer affects so many people.

For Stamps, she discovered that cancer patients aren’t sickly people in cancer wards.

“I was different,” Stamps said. “My doctor told me I was so young and I was an athlete, so I handled things better. I had a job, I volunteered as a basketball coach.”

Instead of going to Howard, she stayed in Fairfield, Calif., for treatment.

After her last treatment, she met Charles Stamps, stationed there with the Air Force. The two married and transferred to Cannon Air Force Base, where they have been since 2008. They have two children, and she is planning to graduate from Clovis Community College next May and transfer to Eastern New Mexico University to get her bachelor’s degree in public relations.

Plyler said it’s the shared stories of triumph like Stamps and the shared moments of loss that make the event so powerful.

“It really brings it home that these are our neighbors, our friends, our family members, whether we know it or not,” Plyler said. “And these things do make a difference in people’s lives.”