If one didn’t know better, the crowd at the Bulloch County Relay for Life Friday night could have been mistaken for the annual fair, the grounds were so packed. Cars filled the parking lots before 6 p.m. as people made their ways to the center of activity around the edges of the relay course.
The event began around 5 p.m., when local cancer survivors enjoyed a cook out in the Statesboro Kiwanis Building. Afterwards, survivors were given badges citing the number of years they have been battling cancer, as well as gift bags filled with small tokens of encouragement.
Purple shirts touting celebration of life, with the words “There’s no such thing as too many candles” carried the “Celebration” theme, promoting more birthdays. Survivors of all ages, races and backgrounds, along with their caregivers, gathered underneath the survivor tent and awaited the beginning of the relay.
Patrick Jarvis traveled all the way from Acworth to volunteer for the Survivor Team, which served in memory of local cancer victim Neal Dunn. His portrait was set upon a table next to Jarvis.
He, too, is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with melanoma – skin cancer – in 2005. He said he came to volunteer in support of his wife’s aunt, Debbie Davis, who led the Survivor Team.
His cancer “was fairly a nonevent,” he said, adding he felt rather guilty for claiming survivor status when so many others fought a much more difficult battle.
His duty was to make sure each new survivor of one year or less received a book entitled “There’s No Place Like Hope,” by Vickie Gerard, which was a collection of “mind sized bites” of encouragement for beating the disease.
Team Captain Recruitment Chair Melanee Morales said there were 126 teams at the event, ready to raise money for a cure for cancer as education about the many-faceted disease.
Teams have been raising money through a multitude of fund raising events throughout the past few months, and were ale to continue throughout the night as people visited their campsites.
The sites were each decorated according to a selected board game theme, and were judged on content and appearance. As relay walkers made rounds, they passed camps that emitted the tantalizing smells of popcorn, hamburgers, cotton candy and other grilled and barbecued food. Many camps offered food for sale in efforts to further their donations to the cause.
As the night progressed, there was a reverse beauty pageant and a Relay Idol contest. Everywhere one looked, people were having fun.
Nona Taylor has been a cancer survivor for 19 years. Like Jarvis, she feels her bout with the disease was minor compared to others.
“It was breast cancer, so tiny,” she said. She had endured so many mammograms, and felt it was time to stop the procedures. But one more, and doctors found the spot of cancer. A lumpectomy and radiation has helped Taylor live a healthy life after the scare.
Her friend, Nona Foster, has been cancer free for 25 years. She found out after her doctor, suspecting she had cancer, sent her for a mammogram. A mastectomy took care of the issue and now, “I don’t think anything about it,” she said. She also has melanoma, but said the disease doesn’t scare her.
She and other survivors gathered on the track underneath an archway of purple and white balloons. Luminaries and torches lines the track, and when the group made its token round, the applause and cheers were emotionally charging.
Some who were unable to walk the entire round rode in golf carts and mules.
The night was filled with emotion, happiness for survivors, tears for those who lost the battle.
Kenneth Allen, an eight-year-survivor, is also the ambassador for the Constituent Team Lead for the Congressional 12th District. This year is his first Relay, and he said he was moved by something pushing him to volunteer.
“I just couldn’t sleep, every night I was up and something was on my mind,” he said. “Then I realized, I need to come and volunteer.”
His cancer is incurable. It began with spleenic lymphoma, changed to Large B cell lymphoma, and is now something he can’t even pronounce, he said.
“I just keep a strong mind, and don’t let it get me down,” he said. “I have made up my mind that I just wasn’t going to let cancer kill me.”
As the night’s events went on, Allen and thousands of other cancer survivors and their caregivers enjoyed the night, celebrated life and worked towards raising money to eventually find a cure for the deadly disease.
Holli Deal Bragg, a five-year endometrial cancer survivor, may be reached at (912) 489-9414.