Monday, May 05, 2008

Relay For Life Fights Back!

This year’s roaring cheer for the Relay For Life of Fayette County was the national theme: Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back. That and more was accomplished at this year’s event as thousands filled the Kiwanis Fairgrounds for a 12 hour Relay overnight on Friday. May 2nd.

While the money raised didn’t reach the goal hoped for this year, raising nearly $400,000 for a worthy cause was very impressive according to event planners. “Times are tough and people are worried about filling gas tanks and putting food on their dinner tables,” said Co-Chairperson Susan Stitt. “The people of Fayette County, even in tough economic times, are sincerely concerned about those suffering from cancer and demonstrated their caring by donating to and attending the 2008 Relay For Life.”

For 12 hours, some were remembered who lost their battle to cancer while others were honored who continue to fight the disease. Never-to-be-forgotten, were the tributes to caregivers and supporters, who do their best to make the journey with cancer a little easier to endure.

The event started off at 4 p.m. with a sea of purple t-shirts worn by cancer survivors gathered around Heritage Park, where a hand torch was lit and the Torch of Hope Relay began. Five-year-old cancer survivor Mary Evelyn King, the Honorary Torch Bearer, hopped on a golf cart with her mother, Edna King by her side. Both smiled proudly as Mary Evelyn held the torch to mark the beginning of the relay. Mary Evelyn was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma nearly three years ago. The rare childhood cancer affects 1 out of 100,000. Her father, Mark King, watched with heart-felt joy as his little girl beamed from ear to ear.

“We’re starting to breathe easier since she’s been in remission for two years,” he said. “It’s a great victory and blessing to be on this side of it.” King added that there aren’t enough words to express his gratitude to all at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.” Every parent and grandparent should know they have a fantastic resource at that place.”

It was Becky McGahee’s third time participating in Relay. “No matter how many times you attend Relay it gives you a better perspective on life.” said the breast cancer survivor.

For Phyllis Western, a three time cancer survivor, twice with breast cancer and once with melanoma, it’s an event that can’t be missed. “It’s very inspiring to see everyone; survivors, caregivers, friends and supporters,” Western said. “Each year I’m amazed at how many come to support this event.”

By 7:00 PM thousands of men, women and children filled the Kiwanis Fairgrounds to kick off the 12-hour night of activities. The exciting Opening Ceremony was dramatically high lighted with a Black Hawk helicopter performing a fly-bye over the event to show their support. An inspired crowd then took the track. First off was the survivors lap, followed by a caregivers lap. Nearly 120 teams took part in Relay, including employees from Delta Airlines, Fayette County Elementary School students and administrators, and many local churches.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of luminaria lined the dirt path encompassing the entire fairgrounds.

Some had simple messages honoring or memorializing someone. Others were elaborately decorated with words of love.

There were huge inflatables for kids to jump on and an enormous assortment of food, drinks and dessert- all for sale. And throughout the evening, people continued to keep the pace by circling the track. “This is my second time, and I come because it’s so important to support those who have cancer and those who help people dealing with cancer,” said 16-year-old Divia Meka.

A midnight, a memorial ceremony was held with a scrolling of names who lost their battle to cancer. By 3 a.m., those needing a little breather could watch the movie “The Bee Movie.”

As the event drew to a close at 7 a.m. bleary-eyed folks gathered at the main stage to listen to comments, stories and words of gratitude.

“By dawn the participants are thoroughly exhausted and ready to go home to their warm beds. Our job as organizers is to reward them for a job well done and encourage them to continue the fight, 365 days a year. Cancer never sleeps, and this one night a year, we remember that in a very real way. We cannot give up, we must fight back!”

Submitted by: Susan Stitt

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