Relay For Life is a world-wide community-based fundraising event of the American Cancer Society.  As the American Cancer Society's most successful fundraiser and the organization's signature event, the mission of Relay For Life is to raise funds for cancer research in an effort to improve cancer survival and decrease the incidence of cancer.  Along with this, the Relay funds go to support programs that help improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their caretakers.

The Relay For Life event is organized and implemented by community volunteers, and is a whole-community event in which Relay teams and participants take turns walking around a Relay 'track'.  Many bring tents and campers and stay through the night, celebrating, honoring and remembering those affected by cancer.  Live music, a community picnic & dessert bar, silent auctions, team contests, youth games, and more round out the event to make it an annual community tradition.


The core of the Relay event is the Relay track around which Relay participants walk. The track is encircled with luminaries, both in honor of cancer survivors and in memory of those that have lost the fight against cancer.  These luminaries are lit as the sun goes down during the luminary ceremony.  The bags stay lit through the night, symbolically lighting the path to hope in the dawning of a new day in the lives of cancer survivors, their friends and families.  Participants that wish to may walk through the night as a symbolic gesture of the fight that cancer survivors experience.

Along with the Relay event, the Relay's Survivor Dinner is held just before the opening ceremonies.  This dinner honors the community's cancer survivors and their caretakers, offering the time and space for survivors, their friends and families to come together and share a common story that is unique to their cancer journey.


Each year, more than 5,000 Relay For Life events take place in over twenty countries. Events are held throughout the world in local communities, campus universities and corporate settings. Currently, almost 4 million people take part in Relay events, and it is estimated that Relay For Life events have raised nearly $5 billion to date.


Money raised through Relay For Life comes in many forms - sponsorships, team fundraising and individual donations make up the majority of the funds raised.  Fundraising efforts help to support the following:  

  • Research grants and research programs
  • Prevention programs
  • Community and patient support programs
  • Detection and treatment programs
  • Construction and support of Hope Lodges

Where Does The Money Go?

According to the American Cancer Society, funds raised by Relay For Life have impacted communities nationwide:

  • Saved Patients more than $38 million in lodging costs by providing a free place to stay through the Hope Lodge program
  • Provided more than 380,000 rides to and from treatment or medical appointments
  • Contributed to a 50% drop in smoking since 1946
  • Marked a 20% decline in cancer related deaths since 1991. That means more than 1.3 million lives saved


In May 1985, Dr. Gordon Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington, decided he wanted to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Because he enjoyed marathons, Klatt walked around the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington for 24 hours. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He walked approximately 83 miles and raised $27,000 for cancer research. Nearly 300 of Klatt's friends, family, and patients watched as he ran and walked the course. After this event, Klatt thought about how other people could participate in a similar event in their own community. He recruited a small team of people to host the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.[12]


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