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D301 students launch their first-ever Relay for Life event

Event chair Sally Heyob 16 from PlaCenter gives caregiver Roger Klemm 63 from Elghug during American Cancer Society Relay For

Event chair Sally Heyob, 16 from Plato Center, gives caregiver Roger Klemm, 63 from Elgin, a hug during the American Cancer Society Relay For Life at Prairie Knolls Middle School Friday. August 3, 2012. Klemm was talking to the participants about his wife JoAna who passed away in May. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 6, 2012 6:23AM

ELGIN — There are bigger Relay for Life events than the one held Friday night through Saturday morning at Prairie Knolls Middle School on Nesler Road.

This, however, was the very first Relay for Life on Elgin’s far-west side and the very first held in Central School District 301, organizers said.

The event, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, is one of hundreds held around the country throughout the summer and joins the annual Relay for Life at Elgin Community College.

It was Central High School students who got the ball rolling, bringing the event to the Burlington-based district.

Sally Heyob, 16, and her friend Amy Lawrence, 15, had both walked in other Relay for Life events. Lawrence approached Heyob last year, after walking in an event in Carpentersville-based District 300, about bringing one closer to them.

The two were instrumental in locating sponsors and getting school district support, said Jay Bastian, a walk organizer with the cancer society.

Because it was the first-ever walk in the district, the teens also wanted to do a few things differently from other walks.

“We were able to play and tweak” some of the usual Relay events and practices, Bastian said.

Most Relay for Life events begin with comments from a cancer survivor. Instead, this walk was kicked off with comments from Roger Klemm of Elgin. He lost his wife, JoAnna, to breast cancer on May 16. She had fought the disease on and off for the past 20 years.

The couple’s now-adult children were just 3 and 5 years old when JoAnna was first diagnosed, Klemm said. They got involved in other walks and races to raise awareness for cancer research even back then, he said.

For 13 years, JoAnna was clean before the breast cancer returned and spread to other organs.

“You have a choice,” Klemm said. “You can give up or you can have hope. You people (walking), you don’t know how special you are. It is a fantastic thing” to have that community support.

The young people helping to organize the walk have had their own experiences with cancer, through those they love.

Cindy Schneider, 16, watched as her father had a skin cancer scare recently. Her father walked in the survivor lap.

Each Relay for Life begins with a lap just for cancer survivors, with their caregivers and loved ones walking in the second lap.

Due to a summer band camp concert and scheduling conflict, a second “survivor lap” was added later in the evening as well, for students who were coming late to the event.

It is important for the younger generation to get involved in fundraising and awareness now, Heyob said.

She also believes her generation will be the one to see an end to cancer. “There has to be a cure to cancer,” she said. “There is a cure to everything — we just haven’t found it yet.”

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