Johnson County kicks off Relay for Life with McCafferys


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Iowa head basketball coach Fran McCaffery watched his father, a Philadelphia cop, struggle with colon cancer.

For years, he refused to visit a doctor, and for 13 years, he never missed a day on the force.

Losing both his parents to cancer prompted the coach, and his wife, Margaret McCaffery to become involved in fundraising with the American Cancer Society.

Relay for Life organizers asked the McCafferys to be honorary co-heads after hearing about their previous efforts.

Margaret McCaffery didn’t hesitate when asked about joining Relay for Life.

“It was an easy decision,” she told the The Daily Iowan. “It’s important for us to be involved in the community.”

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Fran McCaffery said he hoped to involve the men’s and women’s basketball team in the June event.

“Once we get involved, we go all the way,” he said.

Johnson County only has 140 days until it takes on its leg of Relay for Life.

Relay organizers and participants gathered Thursday night for the event’s kickoff. They listened to featured speakers and the McCafferys at the Brown Deer Golf Club, where purple and white — the organization’s theme colors — figured prominently in the decorations.

“Cancer continues to take too much from too many,” said Jackie Kleppe Williams, the event co-chairwoman. “That’s why we’re all here today.”

Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s signature event, encouraging teams of eight to 15 people to raise money for cancer research. The fundraising and activities culminate in a 12-hour overnight relay in which team members camp and alternate walking laps on the track, including a first lap taken only by survivors.

Attendees Kelly Petrulevich and Molly Jamieson, two oncology nurses at the UI Hospital and Clinics, are participating in their fifth Relay for Life. Sometimes, the women said, they see cancer survivors they worked with in their department.

“I usually cry,” Petrulevich said. “For me, it’s rewarding.”

Their team of 15 oncology nurses and their families is appropriately named the Cancer Beaters.
Jamieson said it was their way of “giving back.”

This year’s relay — “Building a World Without Cancer” — is scheduled to take place between June 24 and 25 on the Cretzmeyer Track, marking the activity’s return to its usual setting, which the event hasn’t used since before the 2008 flood.

Despite the change in location last year, organizers still raised around $100,000.

But expectations are high for the upcoming June event.

“This year, I think it’s going to be a much bigger event than even last year,” said Lindsay Hora, Relay for Life’s volunteer coordinator.

Before the kickoff, 16 teams with a total of 63 people had signed up. The Johnson County group added more teams at the kickoff, raising the number to 19.

That is more than half the total teams who took part in the relay in June 2010, said press chairwoman Jill Wojciechowski. Last year’s relay racked up a total of 30 teams with around 230 participants.

“We also really want to grow it into a community event, so it’s the entire Johnson County community coming together to support the cause,” she added.

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