Friday night’s Relay for Life began with a loud cheer from the participants gathered for the kickoff.
“Who wants to celebrate more birthdays?” was met with a mighty call from survivors ready to step off on the opening lap of the relay. Clad in purple “survivor shirts” and led by Michelle Chapman, currently surviving in her ninth year with brain cancer, dozens of people either battling cancer or living their lives after overcoming the terrible disease, made their way around the track set up in an expansive parking area near the pool house at Randolph Park.
The first lap was for them, the survivors. Onlookers cheered and waved. Some wiped away tears of joy while others beamed with pride at seeing loved ones in the procession. This was the lap that set the tone for the beginning of an evening of celebration and later, remembrance, and leading at last to a call to action to keep the fight against cancer alive.
Hundreds of members of our local community gathered after months of volunteer fundraising, planning and coordination for one common goal: to beat cancer. At least 34 teams and 254 participants collected $62,000 going into Friday night’s event, which added another $20,862.63 to the pot to bring this year’s total to $83,602.75 and surpassed the event goal of $83,000.
Throughout the evening, people shared their stories and gave their reasons for relaying. Phyllis Vice is an eight-year survivor of breast cancer. She says life as a survivor is “sweet,” and a thrilling part of beating cancer is getting to see her grandchildren grow up; when she was diagnosed, she only had one. Now she has four. Why does she relay?
“It’s a reminder of what I went through, but it’s also hopefully to show people that there is the ‘other side’ of cancer,” said Vice. “Even now it’s still a scary, scary word. There is a deep tunnel you go through, but there is a light on the other side. Being here as a survivor, I think, makes a big difference for those who are walking. Sometimes you do beat it, sometimes you don’t. But sometimes you do.”
To someone who has just been diagnosed, Vice would say, “don’t give up,” and “keep a strong faith that you’re going to make it through. You really have to be positive about it and you need a strong base of friends and support.”
Vice said a lot of people don’t disclose their diagnosis, but she said she told as many people as possible when she learned she had cancer.
“I wanted as many people as I could (find) to start praying for me,” said Vice. “And I could feel those prayers.” Vice said she was there to pass on that hope to others facing the battle.
Other people were there, not as survivors or fighters, but as regular, everyday people whose lives have inevitably been touched by cancer. Nannette Arnold has a lot of family members who have battled cancer and won, but still some she has lost to cancer over the years. Arnold is from Shiloh and is a member of a team from Shiloh Christian Church.
“It’s just important that we keep the word out there and that we get people fighting the disease, because if we don’t, who’s going to?” said Arnold. “Cancer is one of those things that is not a respecter of people. It will touch everybody’s life at some point. To me it’s not a matter of if I get cancer, it’s more a matter of when and what type of cancer might I have. Cancer is so prevalent in our society today that it’s almost likely, if you live long enough, you will fight some type of cancer and your family is going to battle it with you.”
Arnold said it is important that we all work together and try to find a cure for all types of cancer. “It’s life, and life is short. Celebrate it now. Don’t wait to celebrate your loved ones when they’re gone; celebrate their lives now,” she said.
Others were there because they have been caregivers for people with different kinds of cancer—a heart-wrenching experience in itself. Dawnetta Taylor was a caregiver for her father, Donald Davis, who had an eight-month battle with lung cancer.
“At first we thought all the cancer was gone and we thought that we’d won the battle, and within 60 days, he was gone,” Taylor said. Her mother is a 35-year survivor of cancer and her grandmother is going on seven years as a survivor.
Taylor is one of the members of the organizing committee for Pulaski County, and she said the number of people out in support of the cause is a great thing to see.
“It’s incredible,” Taylor said. “It lets you know that you’re doing the right thing. You know, you just look at the faces of the people around and you know that there is hope, and that eventually there will be a cure.”
For other caregivers, Taylor offered some advice: seek support.
“Call the 1-800 number and get support,” Taylor said. “You go through so much emotionally. There’s a lot of support that the hospitals give for the patients themselves, but there’s not a lot of emotional support for caregivers unless they work together. That’s one thing that’s great about the caregiver lap, is that it shows that you’re not the only one out there.”
Taylor would remind people that cancer goes from the very young to the very old and even our pets.
The evening was highlighted by performances from The Traditions, Magic Moments, Valley Elite Allstars, Acoustic Crossroads and vocalist Jason Chrisley and featured a midnight Zumba session to keep people moving throughout the night. Although they endured bouts of rain, participants made a huge impact and the event was a success.
Community leader Erika Tolbert reiterated that the fundraising didn’t stop when this year’s Relay ended.
“Any money turned in before Aug. 31 will be credited to this year’s event totals,” said Tolbert. So look for further opportunities to contribute to our community’s fight against cancer.