Tamaqua's Relay for Life is just about $5,000 away from meeting its annual goal. At the conclusion of the 24-hour event, Chairman Eric Lech announced that the total raised so far was $85,771.25. The annual goal is $91,000. Participants will have until August to reach that milestone, which Lech and those remaining for the closing ceremony felt could be done.

The event started at 2 p.m. on Friday and was held at the Hometown Farmer's Market. This is the second year the Relay has been held at the facility, and organizers couldn't be more appreciative of the owners, Bob and Andrea Dunn.

"They've really done a lot for us," said survivor ceremony chair Heather Eltringham. The Dunns have already stepped up to the plate and offered the facility for next year's event as well. Lech said that this year went much more smoothly since the organizers and participants knew what to expect from the facility.

"Last year, we were still feeling things out, and this year everyone really embraced the site," he said.

Organizers also added the team site judging back into the program, which they did not do last year. Team Silberline claimed the "Best use of theme" award for their site, which incorporated the theme of "Let's Relay, Let's Play," by utilizing the Chance square from the board game Monopoly. Dolly's Angels picked up the "Most visually appealing" award for its site.

Relay is not just about fundraising. It is also about sharing and celebrating cancer survivor stories. The Survivor Ceremony, held on Friday evening, is always one of the most moving parts of the event. Eltringham estimated there were about 65 survivors who participated.

"We have our regulars who come back every year, and I know we had several more here who didn't register," she added. "This year, as the chair, I was putting up the banners from previous years, and reading all of the names of the people who aren't here anymore," said Eltringham. "In a way, we're helping to bring those people back every year, at least in our memories."

Singer Donna Parsons performed and the inspirational speaker was Michelle Huk, a survivor from Lehighton.

Another emotional part of the evening was the Luminaria Service. Marsha Resch, the committee chairwoman, estimated that close to 500 luminaries were sold, either in memory or honor of someone's fight with cancer. The candlelit bags outlined most of the walking area. Jamie Tatusko was the inspirational speaker.

One of the highlights and most lighthearted parts of the entire event is the popular Ms. Relay contest, where the male team members get to strut their stuff, dressed as females. They have 10 minutes to canvas the audience for their votes, which come in the form of dollar bills. The highest earner is then presented with a sash and crown.

This year, Tom Griffin, from the Trans-Western Polymer team, captured the prize, with his impression of Sexy Lexy. Judy Hoppes and Lori Kane acted as the emcees, and introduced the participants. The participants managed to raise $1,040.10 in only 10 minutes. Griffin raised $428.49.

As the event came to a close, exhausted participants dug deep to find the energy to keep walking and also to help clean up the site. Sharon Oravec, who is the nurse manager of the oncology center at St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, admitted to being up for well over 30 hours.

"I give chemo every day, and I see what the patients go through. I'm doing it for them," she said. Oravec's sister-in-law was also diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Oravec has been participating in Relay for about 10 years and is the team captain for the team from St. Luke's.

"We have about 14 members, made up of staff and their families," she said.

Oravec saw many of her patients and former patients participating in the survivor events.

"It's just so great that they can be here for this," she said. When Oravec started in the oncology center 16 years ago, she said, "We had one file cabinet." "Now, we have three, and they're stuffed."

Advances in treatment, as well as improvements in existing drugs, have enabled patients to live longer and healthier lives.

"People don't get as sick as they used to from the chemo," said Oravec. "They are able to live a better quality of life, even when they're getting treated."

Oravec explained that the American Cancer Society and the oncology center have a mutual relationship.

"They help us with educational material, their look good, feel better programs and we benefit them by helping to raise money. We participate in the daffodil sales and the telethon, as well," she said. "We have a very good working relationship."

As the walkers completed their final lap, Lech announced the top earners for the 2010 Relay. The top three teams were Dolly's Angels, $9,070.09; Luther's Angels, $6870.96, and the Panther Valley School District, $5,525.

Lech added that in the 24-hour span of the Relay event, $27,971 was raised.

"That's over $1,000 an hour," he said.

There will be three more major events to benefit this year's Relay, a clothing drive that will be completed on July 24, a steak raffle, and an adults-only fundraiser at the Hometown Fire Company.

The organizing committee is already looking forward to next year.

"We have three teams registered for the 2011 Relay already," said Lech.