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Cancer survivors celebrate second chance
Relay for Life also honors victims
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As participants cheer every step, Lynn Hendrix, who has been cancer free for nine months, leads the way during the Survivors/Caregivers Walk to kick off Friday's 2019 Relay for Life in downtown Statesboro. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Change is the word for the 2019 Bulloch County Relay for Life, which was held Friday in downtown Statesboro for the first time.

Brightly colored tents lined Vine Street and side streets, with various teams set up offering games, food, novelties and more in efforts to collect that last bit of donations that will help the American Cancer Society find a cure for the deadly disease.

In the past, the Relay was held at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds, and before that, at Bulloch Academy. However, Statesboro leaders got together with a new idea to bring new life to the event, combining it with the monthly First Friday event to make it even more fun.

“This year’s committee is excited to be teaming up with our Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, who is hosting our event in the downtown area,” said Lauren McGrath, Relay community manager. “This year’s theme, ‘Cancer Is Not a Game,’ will bring a carnival atmosphere to the downtown area that can be enjoyed by all.”

As the event got going Friday evening, children and adults alike enjoyed playing various games at different team sites, in keeping with the theme. There were board games, carnival style games of chance, street dice and even Twister.

Food trucks offered things that filled the air with delicious aromas. A lot of activity was found at the Survivor’s Tent, where cancer survivors registered and picked up tee shirts.

They also enjoyed a Survivor’s picnic and fellowship with other survivors and their caregivers.

Katherine Welch, from Statesboro, was sporting her purple survivor shirt as she strolled around the area, visiting tents and talking to her friends.  She is a survivor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, AML, and was expecting a child when she was diagnosed. She went into remission but relapsed and had to undergo a stem cell transplant.

“This is an awesome way to celebrate with other survivors and join together with the community to remember the ones we have lost,” she said,

Her friend Jamie Bohler, a nurse from Statesboro, said she was impressed with the downtown venue. In addition to her friend being a survivor, cancer has touched Bohler’s life through family members, patients and others.

“I really like the new location,” she said. “The Relay for Life has always been a big deal in Bulloch County, and I think it is nicer downtown. It is more spread out – a good change.”

As the event started there was a “Survivor’s Lap” where some who have beaten the disease walked or rode around the track, lined with luminaries and meandering around downtown buildings, including Ag South, where the staging area was located.

Keith Howard joined Tom Caiazzo and his American Pro Wrestling Relay team to show support. Howard’s mother-in-law suffered from cancer, he said.

The downtown location “is more convenient, and more accessible for people” he said. “This is a good support group for those touched by cancer  - a good way for people to get together and talk to others and get some guidance.”

Ricardo Romero and his mother, Rosemary Ortiz, have several loved ones who have either fought cancer and won, or who have passed away due to the disease. The Chicago natives have been in Statesboro 15 years and said they enjoy attending the Relay events.

“We’re celebrating the survivors and remembering the non-survivors,” Romero said. His wife passed away from cancer, and his mother is a survivor.

The two were unsure of the new location, admitting it was “confusing:” because they expected the events to be on East Main Street, where First Friday is normally held. 

McGrath said the First Friday event, usually held on the first Friday of each month, was delayed a week to coincide with Relay. This   time all tents, booths and business stalls were along and around Vine Street.

But, “We’re here to enjoy everything,” Ortiz said. “It feels great to see a lot of people supporting (the fight against caner), but it gives me chills and sadness to know they haven’t yet found a cure.”

The American Cancer Society “is the only organization fighting cancer on every front,” McGrath said. “Funds raised from Relay For Life events allow the ACS to attack cancer in dozens of ways, each of them critical to achieving a world without cancer — from developing breakthrough therapies and innovative research, to building supportive communities that come together to help those affected by cancer with access to treatment.”

The ACS “provides empowering resources to deploying activists to raise awareness and develop game-changing approaches to address the cancer burden for all people,” she said.

Relay for Life was founded by Dr. Gordy Klatt in Tacoma, Washington, in 1985. There are 3.5 million participants across the world who unite at more than 4,500 events to “celebrate people who have been touched by cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action for lifesaving change. Symbolizing the battle waged around the clock by those facing cancer, the event can last up to 24 hours and empowers communities to take a stand against cancer,” she said.


Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.