By LOIS KINDLE
Cancer is personal for Sun City Center resident Connie Lesko. Two of her closest friends, a 52-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer and a 68-year-old lifelong friend with lymphoma, are currently struggling with the disease. She also has a 56-year-old nephew who will be on maintenance chemotherapy for the rest of his life to treat colon and lung cancer.
They inspired her to organize the annual Sun City Center Mini-Relay for Life for the Retired Officers Corporation at Freedom Plaza. As it has for the past three years, the organization is sponsoring this year’s event, themed “Rally Your Troops to Defeat Cancer,” April 11 on the grounds of Golf View Terrace at Freedom Plaza. The festivities will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and you’re invited to take part.
Lesko is looking for individuals, neighbors, churches, businesses and clubs to form teams of walkers to help raise funds for American Cancer Society programs and research. It’s easy. You can hit up your family, friends or co-workers, have a bake sale or cookout, start a Go Fund Me page, host a party — you name it. Every dollar counts!
Freedom Plaza, for example, is hosting a one-hour benefit concert March 14 called “Sister Act,” starring Ellen Kleinschmidt, Kathy Straub and Teri Council. The musical revue will feature songs from Mame, A Chorus Line, Cats, Gypsy, Cinderella and more.
“It’s an honor for me to do a concert to support Relay for Life, as breast cancer touched me personally last year, and I’m now in remission,” Kleinschmidt said, noting that Straub is a 10-year survivor of colon cancer. “I dedicate my performance to my dear friend and colleague Joani Tillett, who lost her battle with cancer last month. I’m proud to sing to find a cure for this disease, which touches us all.”
The doors of the Freedom Plaza Auditorium will open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7. Admission is $10 at the door. All proceeds benefit the mini-relay.
You don’t have to walk to pitch in, Lesko said. You can donate online, at the event, or to a team that’s already formed. You can simply attend the festivities, and purchase some food or buy a raffle ticket.
Lesko is also seeking businesses or organizational sponsors. There are three levels — $100, $300 and $500. All include a table at the event, T-shirts, signage and publicity.
The Sun City Center Mini-Relay will feature food and beverage sales, raffles, vendors and music by cancer survivor Thor Stevens, a popular local entertainer.
Here’s the schedule of events:
• 10 a.m. — Opening Ceremony
• 10:15 a.m. — Survivors Lap
• 10:30 a.m. — American Heroes Lap
• 10:45 a.m. — All Teams Lap
• 12:30 p.m. — Luminaria Ceremony
• 1 p.m. — Closing Ceremony
The opening ceremony will include a local high school Honor Guard and the singing of the national anthem.
All proceeds go to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Last year’s event raised $10,000.
As always, Lesko is pumped about the relay and its impact on the community.
“So many people are touched by this disease,” she said. “Rally Your Troops to Defeat Cancer” is about honoring people who have lost their lives to cancer, those who are currently fighting the disease and celebrating folks who’ve survived it. We do all of this at the relay, and raise money for ongoing programs and research at the same time.
“So come out and join the fun,” she said.
To sign up for Sun City Center Mini-Relay for Life, donate or for more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/suncitycenterfl or call Lesko at 813-927-1147.