Freckled and perky, Carli Franks looked too young to be the American Cancer Society representative for Forest Park’s Relay for Life fundraising event on June 23, but looks can be deceiving.

The 23-year-old appears as if she is still in high school, but in actuality she is as mature as most 30-year-olds. Perhaps the combination of her own mother’s battle with cancer and her grandfather’s death from lung cancer made Franks grow up more quickly than most.

Franks was 12 years old when she found out about her mother’s breast cancer. Her mother, Teresa Riley, survived that first cancer, but then was diagnosed later with cervical and uterine cancer. Now, for the last six years her mother has managed to be cancer-free.

“My mom, I think she’s one of the strongest people that I know,” said Franks. Franks explained that her mother used to dread birthdays, worrying about getting old, but now things have changed and her mother looks forward to each and every year.

“She celebrates every birthday like a five-year-old would,” said Franks.

There is a friendly intimacy to the way in which Franks talked about her mother, a gentle glow to her eyes as she spoke of her. “My mom is probably one of the most caring people in the whole world,” she said, “She really makes every person feel like they’re important.”

One could easily see her mother in her as Franks weaved her way through the crowd of attendees, ensuring that each event went according to schedule and treating people like her mother would, with an amiable caring. And, there were plenty of events to tend to, including a survivor dinner, park grill out, free massages, pool party, luminaria ceremony, bingo, movie, aerobics, fundraising awards and more.

But Franks’ favorite event, which even made her smile just thinking about it, was the Mr. Relay competition, where guys put on women’s dresses to go around asking for donations. The winner of that event raised an impressive 79 dollars.

Talking casually with Franks while sitting on fold-out chairs with a table full of relay team T-shirts between us, children would occasionally approach asking if we wanted to make donations. The spirit was definitely one of fundraising and Franks said that that spirit has made Relay for Life “the number one fundraising event in the world.”

Franks said that the donations have been impressive throughout the United States, probably due at least in part to the way in which cancer tends to affect so many families.

Forest Park resident (and Review opinion columnist) Dave Goetz was the Chairman of the Forest Park Relay for Life, his ninth year with the event. Goetz agreed that cancer is impossible to ignore.

“Everyone in your family somewhere down the line [someone] gets cancer,” he said. For Goetz, it was his wife, Sharon, who died of breast cancer when she was 36.

“It was a shock,” said Goetz, explaining that his wife had an uncommon, aggressive form. “Not all cancers are the same,” explained Goetz.

The loss of his wife has led Goetz to communicate the importance of early detection by seeing your doctor on a regular basis, as well as the importance of overall education in regards to cancer.

1-800-ACS-2345 is a 24-hour hotline set up so that fully trained cancer specialists can answer general questions. You can also visit their Web site at These educational tools have been key in making changes in lessening the prevalence of cancer in the United States.

Demonstrative of that success, explained Franks, is the fact that for the first time ever in history cancer deaths have declined in the U.S. The national no-smoking campaign has been another significant element in this decrease in cancer deaths.

“We’re pushing for a smoke-free state right now,” said Franks.

Along with not smoking, exercise is important in reducing the risks. The park was full of participants exercising the day of the event, with about 20 people walking around the sidewalks in front of the Park District building and several taking breaks in lawn chairs until they had the energy to get back up again and walk.

Oak Park resident Lonya Haggans sat by her teammates, two-year Forest Park resident and anesthesia technician Floyd Jenkins and five-year Chicago resident Vera H. Henry. Haggans’ grandfather, S.L. Shannon, died of prostate cancer, so Haggans was there to memorialize him, as well as to help with the American Cancer Society’s fundraising efforts.

“Possibly with enough donations they can find a cure,” said Haggans.

“I feel empowered by doing it,” said relay team volunteer Henry. Area residents can join Henry, Goetz, and Franks by contacting the American Cancer Society locally at (708) 484-8541. Volunteers and donations are always needed.

It looks like they will be doing these relays for life.