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Relay for Life teams fight against cancer together
Annual American Cancer Society event raises funds for research and honors all affected by illness
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Stanley Stephens, an eight-year pleomorphic sarcoma cancer survivor, and Arlene Schroeder, a 19-year breast cancer survivor, release balloons along with many other cancer survivors during last year’s Relay for Life of Hall County at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus in Oakwood. Almost 100 teams with more than 1,000 participants are registered for this year’s Relay. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Relay for Life of Hall County

When: 7 p.m. to midnight May 12

Where: University of North Georgia Gainesville campus, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood

More info: rena.pendley@cancer.org or 770-297-1176

In 2010, Sydney Nix walked in her first Relay for Life. Her cancer-stricken father was by her side.

“We got to interact with people who had the same cancer as my dad, and they were telling us their stories and how they dealt with it,” she said. “They told us different things they had gone through ... and what things worked for them.”

Her dad also walked in the survivors’ lap. It’s a memory Nix cherishes.

“It was his first and last one he went to,” she said.

Her father died in August 2010.

The following year, the young teen participated in Relay and has continued ever since. And for the first time this year, Nix is a team captain for her employer, America’s Home Place.

“I’m very excited (about the Relay) because I love it every year,” said Nix, who works in accounts payable for the company and attends the University of North Georgia.

CANCER CONNECTIONS

Nix’s story is not a new one. All across Hall County, hundreds of people share similar stories, including two women at America’s Home Place.

Nancy Black and Kayla Vickery both know from personal experience what it is like to watch a loved one fight and win as well as lose a cancer battle.

Black’s husband had bone cancer. He is a survivor. Her grandmother beat different types of cancer several times. The last time, the cancer prevailed, said Black, who works in accounts payable at America’s Home Place.

Vickery’s grandmother had cancer and died from it in November. The office coordinator of sales at the Gainesville location also lost a good friend to breast cancer. But it was a co-worker who beat lymphoma last year that inspired her to join the Relay team.

As a team, the three women plus the other company volunteers raise money for the Relay for Life, which is the fundraising event of the American Cancer Society.

America’s Home Place raises money through raffles at the Relay as well as through T-shirt sales. The red shirt is printed with names of loved ones on the back, honoring cancer survivors or memorializing others. Black and Vickery both have shirts  and wear them at the Relay.

“You have people come up and ask you about it,” Black said. “It makes you feel good to wear it.”

So far, the custom home builder has raised $700 in T-shirt sales.

PASSIONATE ABOUT RELAY

America’s Home Place is not the only team with T-shirt sales. NGMT Inc. sells pink shirts in October every year and donates the funds to the American Cancer Society. This year it raised $15,000 as the presenting sponsor of Relay for Life of Hall County.

NGMT supervisor Spencer Walker, who is the Relay team captain, said the shirts are to signify breast cancer. But the company goes one step further.

“We have a pink ambulance, too,” he said.

Walker’s interest in supporting breast cancer comes from a personal place.

“My grandmother had breast cancer,” he said. “I’ve had friends come down with breast cancer and colon cancer. I do this for them.”

But Walker was quick to point out everybody is affected by cancer.

Kristie Kiser, who is the Relay for Life team captain for the University of North Georgia, could not agree more.

Her mother, father, grandmother and uncle were diagnosed with cancer within days and weeks of each other in 2012.

“It really hit home that year how important it is to raise money for cancer research,” she said.

Her uncle lost his battle with adult T-cell lymphoma, saying a treatment option was not available.

Her parents are cancer-free. And while her grandmother survived her battle, she died last year.

After such an upheaval in her family, Kiser is passionate about raising money for the American Cancer Society and participating in Relay for Life.

“People are positively influenced due to events like Relay,” she said.

WALKING THE TRACK

But all agree on the most positive and powerful parts of Relay: the survivor and luminary laps.

The survivor lap has all cancer survivors walking a lap around the track at UNG Gainesville, which is the site sponsor of the event. Hall County has hundreds, if not thousands, of survivors.

“One of the best things I ever heard is, someone stood up and said ‘The moment that you hear that you have cancer, you become a survivor,’” Walker said. “‘And if you have cancer, you are surviving every single day.’ To me that was amazing.”

Black said the survivor lap, which her husband walks in, puts her life in perspective.

“It makes me happy that they have gone through this and came out on the positive side of this terrible disease,” she said.

Vickery and Kiser look forward to the luminary lap. The lights are turned off, and the track is illuminated with bags of names of people who have or had cancer and people who died of cancer. A bagpiper plays “Amazing Grace.”

“We honor all of these people,” Kiser said. “It’s very emotional.”

With all these emotions running high, all of the team captains and participants are there for one purpose: To raise funds and end the plight of cancer.

This year’s Relay for Life is from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday, May 12, at the UNG Gainesville campus in Oakwood. To participate or donate, visit http://relay.acsevents.org

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