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The strength of survival
Relay for Life fund raiser kicks off at Kiwanis Fairgrounds
041312 RELAY FOR LIFE 01
Robert Paxson, right, and wife Amy respond to the applause from a supporting crowd as they participate in the Survivors Lap to kick off the 2012 Relay for Life at the Kiwainis Ogeechee Fairgrounds Friday. Amy is a ten-year cancer survivor and Robert a three-year survivor. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Some held hands. Others held balloons. Every one of the cancer survivors who made the first lap Friday night at the Bulloch County Relay for Life held hope.
People of all ages, races, and all walks of life gathered for the annual fund raiser aimed at helping find a cure for cancer. Money raised through the event, like thousands of others across the world, goes to cancer awareness and research.
The track at the Statesboro Kiwanis Fairgrounds was lined with white paper sack luminaries, purchased by citizens in memory of friends or family members who either lost the battle with cancer or who survived. As dark fell, the soft glow of the luminaries pierced the night.
Survivors and their caregivers enjoyed a chicken dinner before the festivities. Raina Chance, who learned she had cancer nine years ago when she was a high school junior, spoke during the meal.
She told how she had just begin driving, was enjoying varsity softball, when she discovered a bruise on her foot. Blood tests revealed she had leukemia.
As she spoke, Nellie Sowell, 98, sat with her daughter. Sowell is a 56-year cancer survivor, having overcome cervical cancer.
Participating in Relay for Life “makes me happy to see so many people enjoying life after becoming a survivor,” she said.
She left the dining area to sit in a rocking chair underneath the survivor’s tent, next to the track. As she watched, others strolled by. Some were obvious survivors, with no hair due to chemotherapy, or being pushed in wheelchairs. Most survivors could only be identified by the purple shirts they were given; the front read “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.” The back read “I am Hope.”
One of the fund raising activities had Relay teams decorating their campsites, where members would rest through the night as the event went on. Some grilled, others sold a variety of refreshments and everyone enjoyed the carnival atmosphere. Judges would later decide which camp was best.
Children enjoyed train rides and an air jump house. Tammy Letbetter, 23, Savannah, smiled as she watched the fun.
She was with the Zeta Phi Beta sorority from Georgia Southern University. “We’re here to help in the survivor tent, pass out tee shirts, give directions and help where needed,” she said.”I had a grandfather who didn’t survive cancer, and whatever I can do to give back is good.”
Dan Bryant helped his wife Marjorie into chair underneath the tent. As an attentive caregiver, he talked about their brush with cancer while she socialized with a friend.
“She is a one-year survivor… renal clear cell cancer and sarcomatoid (bone) cancer,” he said. He said he and his wife have been supporting fund raising for cancer research since the late 1970’s, before Relay for Life was formed in 1985.
“It gives people a chance,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing when a doctor says ‘we don’t have a cure.’ They have help, but not a cure.”
Some survivors are young. Stacy Waters, 26, watched her two young sons play as she shared her experience with cervical cancer. She discovered it after the birth of son Zachary, now five.
“I was upset, sad, and didn’t really know what to do,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for my mama. I’d have freaked.” Her mother, Latrelle Hardy, walked with her as she made the survivor’s lap.
Team members took turns throughout the night walking around the track, raising money in several different ways to support the fight to find a cure for cancer. Totals raised will be announced next week.

Holli Deal Brag may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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