Everyone knows someone with cancer or who has died from the disease, which makes it hard to see an upside at times.
Yet there is one, as illustrated by those who beat cancer, and just as everyone knows a victim, more than likely they all know a survivor — whose numbers can be astounding when they gather in one place.
Saturday night, Veterans Memorial Park in Mount Airy was such a place, where the annual Relay for Life was held to drive home the point that there is hope.
“Relay for Life is an event designed to celebrate life,” cancer survivor Jim Armbrister, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, told the crowd as he read a special city proclamation in honor of the occasion. “All while taking a swing to knock out cancer.”
During his remarks at an opening ceremony for the 2018 Relay for Life, Armbrister also mentioned that more than 1.7 million new cases of the disease will emerge this year in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.
The good news is, forces are immobilized to wage war on the dreaded disease, which includes the Relay for Life campaign held in communities around the country. Saturday night’s gathering at Veterans Memorial Park was both a fundraiser to aid research and cancer victims and a show of unity to illustrate that it can be beaten.
One of the Relay for Life highlights was a survivors’ lap in the park in which the participants were distinguishable by the purple T-shirts they wore. Local cheerleaders including a contingent from North Surry High School stood on the sidelines to provide spirited encouragement as they do during a Friday night football game.
A caregivers’ lap came after that, and when darkness fell a luminaria ceremony was planned in which luminarias, or small lanterns, that lined the survivors’ lap track were lit in memory of those lost to cancer and in honor of those cured.
The event additionally included games such as a tug of war, a costume contest and opening music by High Country Grass to help set the mood for the festive, yet solemn proceedings. Local Boy and Girl scouts also assisted with the gathering.
The fundraising component involved a $55,000 goal for 2018, according to Dara Parsons, volunteer chairperson for Relay for Life/Surry County.
About $18,000 already had been accounted for leading up to Saturday’s event, aided by various individual fundraising activities among about 16 different teams that added to the total by sales of pizza and other items during the Relay for Life. Parsons was hopeful the overall goal would be met when all the donations and proceeds from this year’s campaign were tallied.
She said at least 165 people were taking part Saturday, including survivors and members of teams — some with colorful names such as “Homer’s Heroes,” “Holy Walkamolies” and “Shasta’s Peeps.”
Relay for Life activities are meaningful for those who have overcome cancer such as Janice Beane, who was working a survivor and luminaria tent Saturday.
“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease when I was 24,” said Beane, who is originally from Surry County and now lives in Winston-Salem. That was in 1990.
“I ended up having a bone marrow transplant,” Beane told a reporter of her struggle that has produced a happy ending. “Knock on wood, it’s all good.”
Relays for Life now hold a special significance for the cancer survivor.
“Just being able to be here and celebrate with all these people means the world to me,” said Beane, although that is tempered by the memories of those not so fortunate.
“I have a lot of family members who aren’t here because of this terrible disease,” she continued. “It just gives you so much hope to see all these people who have battled, and are walking around.”
“We come together when we can to do what we can,” Armbrister said of the ongoing fight in his remarks during the opening ceremony.
“By your being here,” he told the crowd, “that’s a statement for all those who aren’t here.”
Parsons, the Relay for Life chairperson, put matters into perspective just before the cancer survivors walked their triumphant lap.
“They aren’t victims anymore when they survive,” she said. “They are superheroes.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.