Thousands upon thousands of luminaries lined the track Friday night at the 25th Annual Bulloch County Relay for Life, held at the Kiwanis Ogeechee fairgrounds.
As cancer survivors walked or rode golf carts around the track during the Survivors’ Lap, people standing around the track, near tents at campsites, cheered and clapped.
Upon each luminary was written the name of someone — a mother, a brother, a friend, a spouse —who either is a survivor or who has lost the battle against cancer, but whose memory is still alive in the hearts of those left behind.
Emotion filled the air Friday night as the event got underway — all in the name of raising money to continue the fight for a cure.
The evening began with a Survivor cook out, where cancer survivors and their care givers were treated to a grilled chicken dinner, complete with baked beans, potato salad and brownies. Those who had not already received their 2009 survivor shirts did so that night, along with other treats reserved for survivors - goody bags, fresh fruit, DVD movies, and more.
The real treat for survivors, however, was knowing they had beaten the disease. Some, however, are still battling.
Hilda Dutrow thought she had beaten cancer in 2003 - and had, for a while. Diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia in 2003, she ended up taking chemotherapy in 2005, and “ had a good remission.”
But in the fall of 2008, Dutrow learned her cancer had been “ transformed” into non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She has completed four of six chemotherapy rounds.
“There’s the serious fatigue, but it’s working,” she said, smiling brightly, with a “Relay for Life” cap on her head. “It’s just one of the things you have to do.”
Being a cancer survivor and attending a Relay for Life event is “a very emotional experience, to see the support, the luminaries,” she said. “The first year (attending as a survivor) someone told me ‘you must have more luminaries than anyone else,’ but I didn’t see any luminaries with my name on them. You can’t see through your tears.”
Surrounding the relay track are rows of tents and canopies covering the camp sites of various teams who compete to see which can raise the most money to help cancer research and education. The camp sites are judged on the originality of their themes and decorations as an added aspect of fun to the night.
“Rocking Out a Cure For Cancer” was 67 Styles’ theme, sticking to a musical flavor. Park Avenue Bank’s tent was slugged “ Marga-Relay-Ville.” Farmers and Merchants Bank went all out with a western town theme , “Wrangling a Cure for Cancer.” First Southern National Bank had a race car theme in honor of Mark Brannen, who died last year from cancer. Brannen was a racing enthusiast.
In years past the camp sites were all on the outside of the track; there were so many this year, several were located on the inside of the track as well.
As walkers kept making their rounds, and team members enjoyed the camaraderie and activity at the camps, survivors socialized under the “ Survivor Tent,” in rocking chairs and other seats.
A “ Happy Memory” board invited visitors to post fond memories of those who have or had cancer, and across the aisle was “ The Empty Table.”
Covered in white, the small table featured a single red rose in a vase, which symbolized the “enduring love of family,” according to a sign posted nearby.
A slice of lemon lay on a plate, symbolizing “ the bitter battle.” Salt was scattered across the plate, symbolizing “ countless tears.” An inverted glass beside the plate represented “ the memory of those who are not here,” and a pink ribbon on the vase stood for the search for a cure for cancer.
The Relay for Life lasted throughout the night, with walkers making rounds at all hours. Teams were awarded plaques and sponsors given recognition, and entertainment kept things lively as the night wore on. Some teams sold food, others had games, including a scavenger hunt.
The total amount raised for the 2009 Bulloch County Relay for Life will be announced this week, organizers said.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.