More than 1,000 people gathered Friday evening for a celebration of hope on the track at Liberty County’s Recreation Center for this year’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life fundraiser.
Tory Baker, chairperson for Relay for Life Liberty County, said 512 people already had signed up online for the annual event, but the American Cancer Society’s Beatriz Miranda said she expected another 300 to sign up by the end of the evening.
“Our goal is to raise $142,000 this year,” Baker said. “Right now, we’re at $99,000, but we expect to raise a lot more this evening. People have until September to give.”
Booths manned by families, businesses and church groups surrounded the track, each representing this year’s theme, “Tis the Season to Fight Back.” Some were dressed like Native Americans and pilgrims for a Thanksgiving theme. Others were dressed in Mardi Gras masks. Some booths sold burgers and treats, while others, like the “Scary Cancer Treatment Room,” offered a haunted house to raise funds.
Baker, who called cancer a “disease that never sleeps,” said that was why the event was scheduled from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Teams of walkers took laps around the track during their scheduled time.
The event started with a welcoming by Baker and a few remarks from Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas.
“I’m not wearing my purple shirt tonight, but I want you to know I’m a cancer survivor, too,” said Thomas, who thanked everyone for their support for the event. “Are you all ready to walk?”
Cancer survivors, most wearing bright purple T-shirts, gathered at the starting line, with caregivers with them. They shouted with enthusiasm when Thomas prompted them to cheer. The walk began with the Bradwell Institute color guard leading the way.
The participants, some using crutches to lean on as they slowly plodded along, grinned as they marched forward. Paul and Colette Spence were among the survivor walkers.
Paul Spence, a retired soldier with 36 years of federal service, survived melanoma 17 years ago. Colette was diagnosed with lymphoma four years ago but has been cancer-free for two years.
“I met her when she was 16,” Spence said. “I’d just turned 18 and was serving in France. She’s French, you know. That was 1954. I wouldn’t know what to do without her.”
Don Taylor and his wife Chrislene both wore the purple shirts, although Don is a double cancer survivor.
“I’ve survived bladder cancer and skin cancer,” Taylor said as he pushed back his large cowboy hat and panted a little after completing the lap. “I got it from smoking. My surgery was four years ago at the Cleveland Clinic. I hurt a lot, but I’m alive.”
Millie Wilson, a Girl Scout Master for more than 40 years and a three-time survivor, said she doesn’t worry at all about the cancer she’s beaten three times, thanks to her faith and trust in God.
“I’ve had thyroid cancer and uterine cancer, and I’ve just had surgery for breast cancer,” Wilson said as she gathered her scouts around her. “It takes a lot of faith. I’ve also had really good support from my husband, my daughters and my girls (scouts).”
Another survivor, Bruce Muncher, said few people were aware that he had been treated for melanoma. Muncher’s sister, Marion Carter, is a breast-cancer survivor.
“It started out as a mole on my forehead that looked like a pimple,” Muncher said. “It would start bleeding then stop then start again, and I kept putting off going to the doctor. When I finally went, he tested that mole and a spot on my right shoulder and they both came back positive. There are so many people that have had cancer. That’s what this walk is all about. It’s something we all have in common and what brings us together.”
At 9 p.m., bags with the names of friends and family members who lost their fight with cancer on them and containing candles were lit, and the lights on the track were turned out for the luminaries.