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Cancer survivors, supporters march toward a cure in annual Relay for Life fundraiser
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Cancer survivors, Monica Sandoval and Sarah Robertson walk together during the survivors walk Friday night during the Hall County Relay for Life event at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus. About 105 teams with more than 1,000 participants were registered for this year’s relay. - photo by Erin O. Smith

It’s touched thousands of people in Hall County alone.

Cancer’s reach is wide, and it doesn’t discriminate, but thousands of people in North Georgia want to do something about it.

The annual Relay for Life of Hall County was held Friday evening through the early hours of Saturday morning at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus. Hundreds attended the event raising money for American Cancer Society.

About 105 teams with more than 1,000 participants were registered for this year’s event. Each team’s booth comes with a story of a loved one who beat, and some who lost, their fight with cancer.

The Puckette family is no exception. Their booth each year is called “Cuffed for the Cure” is sponsored by the family business ComTran Group Inc. They build a jail and attendees can pay money to have their friends put “in jail.” The prisoners hold a bucket and can only get out once they’ve raised enough money.

This year, the Puckettes honored their late father, Dan Puckette.

“We’ve been doing the jail for eight years,” said Barbara Bostwick, Dan Puckette’s daughter. “We do it in honor and memory of our parents, who we lost to cancer. We lost our dad to lung cancer, and we’re doing it in his memory this year. This is a family team and a family business, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Hilda McDonald helped run the booth with her church, Hopewell Baptist Church. The booth was in honor of her 20-year-old niece, Kre Wehunt.

“My son and daughter-in-law get this up and get it going,” McDonald said. “We’re pulling this year for my niece, who’s got cancer and has had surgery. We’re pulling for her to get out and get better.”

Several local high schools had booths, including Chestatee High School and Johnson High School.

Maddie Williams, 16, is a sophomore at Johnson High School, and several of her friends had a booth in her honor.

“Maddie was recently diagnosed with brain cancer,” said Sloane Sengson, sophomore at Johnson. “We’re all sophomores and so is Maddie, so we’re all pretty close with her. We’re selling bracelets here, and last week we did a ‘Man Pageant,’ and all the donations went to her.”

Maddie has grade-three anaplastic ependymoma, an uncommon type of brain cancer. The Flowery Branch resident is currently in Houston undergoing treatment at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Dana Richardson, a pancreatic cancer survivor and teacher at Chestatee, helped run her school’s booth selling raffle tickets.

“I lost my mom to cancer almost eight years ago,” said Emily Hulsey, captain of the Chestatee team.

Hulsey’s 3-year-old daughter Laney is best friends with Brecklynn Allgood, who was diagnosed last year with pleuropulmonary blastoma, a rare childhood cancer. The community rallied in support of Brecklynn, and “Battle for Breck” shirts were common on the relay track Friday.

“We have lots of reasons to be here, don’t we?” Hulsey said.

Hundreds of cancer survivors were identifiable Friday, each wearing a purple shirt with the word “survivor” across the back. The event began with a balloon release and survivor lap.

“That’s when the survivors walk around the track, and for those that are unable to walk we’ll have golf carts for them,” Rose Riddle with Relay for Life of Hall County told The Times. “We have some that come out that have just started treatment. A lot of them just want to try to walk.”

After the survivor lap was a caregiver lap, for caretakers, family members or anyone the survivor wants with them. The third lap was a remembrance lap, specifically for the caregivers and family members who have lost someone to cancer.

Finally, the team laps began, and participants relayed around the track while jB Jams Entertainment and Events led games.

Chad Mann, community service officer with Hall County Sheriff’s Office, emceed the relay. He commended all the attendees and thanked them for their donations and their hope for a cure.

“Hope moves us to act when our souls are confused of the direction,” he said. “Hope is a wonderful thing, something to be cherished and nurtured, something that will refresh us in return. And you know what? It can be found in each one of us who are here tonight.”

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