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Relay for Life targets goal of raising funds to find cure for cancer

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

The thick, black clouds hanging low in the sky and threatening to unleash a downpour would have scared some people into running for cover, but for those who have stared cancer in the face, a little stormy weather is just a walk in the park or more appropriately, a walk around the track.

That's exactly what the large group of cancer survivors and others who have been affected by the disease did this weekend.

The 24 hours of walking was just one of the events during the fifth annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life held at Skyview High School track Friday and Satur-day.

"This originally started out as a fund-raiser, but there's just so much emotion that goes into it, that now it's so much more than that," said Pamela Howard, publicity chair for Relay for Life.

Howard became motivated to get involved with the fight against cancer after seeing what her father, a 35-year survivor, went through while battling the disease.

Howard devoted much of her time to working in the Smart Shop tent, where there was an abundance of cancer-related literature.

"We've had people come through the Smart Shop and didn't know they had cancer, but from the information packets, found they did have an early stage of cancer and caught it in time," she said.

The first event was the survivors' lap, which followed the opening ceremony dedicated to the memory of Dr. Tim Powers.

Shirts of different colors identified cancer survivors from other participants and it was a sea of purple as close to 100 survivors took to the track.

Denyse Mitchell was one of them. She walked the track with her folks who also have been diagnosed with cancer.

"I've been here every year since it started, and I think it's wonderful," said Mitchell. "We bond in a special way, and although we lose a few, we still have hope."

Mitchell was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago. She said the doctor who diagnosed it realized the advanced stage the cancer was in and began explaining what was immediately necessary to combat it.

"The doctor said cancer, surgery and chemotherapy before I ever had a mammogram," Mitchell said. "I was devastated and in shock and just walked out the door without even paying. I thought I was going to die."

The road to recovery was a long and painful one for Mitchell. She had to have a mastectomy and endured six months of chemotherapy and the subsequent sickness that followed the treatment.

 

Vicky Tachick, 8, takes a break from walking to do some hula-hooping Saturday. Her team, Connor's Walkers, have been walking on and off since the start of the event Friday night.

Photo by McNair Rivers

"All my hair fell out and I looked like my grandpa," she said. "It was tough, and all I could do was lie there and breathe."

Now a few years have passed. She has recovered, her strength has returned and her long hair has grown back.

"Now that I made it through, I feel invincible and I want to help people just starting out," she said. "You can't say you know how they feel, but you can say, 'I've been there.'"

LaDonna Best was another survivor who was in the relay. She suffered from skin cancer and had three cancerous growths removed since the age of 13.

Best's daughter also has been diagnosed with cancer, as well as her father, two grandmothers and her aunt, who was remembered with one of the hundreds of luminaria that surrounded the track, each one representing someone died from cancer.

"I come every year and I love it," Best said. "Raising money for cancer research is great. Hopefully, we can find a cure so it will quit taking our loved ones."

Best put in laps for the first hour of the relay and said she was hoping to be out as much as she could. She said her advice to people is to take skin cancer seriously.

"People should cover up in the sun with a hat or lotion," she said. "I didn't and now I'm paying for it. I had to learn the hard way."

Connor Aaronson wasn't the youngest person at the relay afflicted by cancer, but he proved he was the fastest.

He finished the survivor's lap first and by more than half a lap ahead of the others.

"He blew them away," said his dad, Dan Aaronson. "He loves to run and play."

Connor was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 3. He made it through two brain surgeries and a year of chemo.

"It's been three years with no new growth," said his dad.

He explained all the ways the cancer had challenged Connor, but he also focused on all the ways he's like any other child.

"He likes videos and Nintendo," said Dan Aaronson. "He loves to read, too. Captain Underpants and Calvin and Hobbes are his favorites right now."

Dan Aaronson attends the relay every year. He said he likes the event because it brings the community together for a common cause to fight for lives.



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