WHEATON – After she received treatment for breast cancer in April 2004, Karen Fouts was looking for an outlet.
“When you finish your treatment, your life has been so wrapped up in the process that when they say you’re done you say, ‘Well – now what?’” she said.
Her thoughts quickly turned to others who struggled with cancer.
“As many people do, I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m still here. What can I do to help people going through the same thing I just went through?’” she said.
She decided she needed to give back to the community that had supported her through tough times, and her research led her to the worldwide charity event Relay For Life.
Relay For Life is an “organized, overnight community fundraising walk,” according to its website. The event involves teams collecting donations, then taking turns walking around a track all night to raise awareness and money for cancer research. It began in 1985 in Tacoma, Wash. and has since grown into a worldwide effort, raising more than $4 billion to fight cancer.
Fouts said she was attracted to the event because so much of the funds collected – about 93 cents on the dollar – went toward research and cancer patient and survivor support.
In July, three months after her final treatment, she went to her first Relay.
One of the long-standing traditions for the event is to have the first lap of the Relay be a “Survivor’s Lap,” where cancer survivors take the track.
“It was incredibly emotional and moving,” she said of her first Survivor Lap. “The attendees line the track and they cheer for everybody, and you get high-fives. That year I walked with my mother, who is a cancer survivor, and three of my coworkers who were also cancer survivors. And the outpouring of support that you feel is just beyond words.”
By 2006, Fouts had joined the leadership committee for the Wheaton/Glen Ellyn/Winfield Relay For Life. She has remembered those who have lost their lives to cancer, honored those who have fought it and supported those whose fight continues by writing their names onto paper bags that are lit up during the night of the Relay, an experience she called “therapeutic.”
This year’s Relay For Life on June 14 was at Glenbrook South High School and saw 225 participants in 32 teams raise more than $94,000 for the cause.
While the event saw a large influx of high schoolers, who Fouts calls “the future of Relay,” Fouts said that fundraising efforts have been challenging the last few years, due to the economic downturn.
Still, she said, she is “thrilled in light of the circumstances that we’re knocking on the door of $100,000.”
Fouts says that she still gets checked annually, but that she has been cancer-free since 2004. She said that Relay is the thing she was looking for when she sought a way to give back after she finished her treatment.
“I think the big benefit is the opportunity for everybody that’s there – myself included – to go look at all these people and realize that they aren’t alone in this,” she said. “There’s a real sense of community, of support and motivation.”
To learn more about Relay For Life, visit www.relayforlife.org.