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The Survivors Walk has always been the opening ceremony of the annual Relay for Life walk.
Friday night was no different, though the weather caused a venue change. The event is normally outside, but was moved to the lower level of the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus parking deck.
The walk was led by seven individuals holding up a banner that read “Survivors — Celebrating Life” and each survivor held a purple balloon or two.
The walk itself is a tradition that Rena Pendley, senior communications manager for the group, said exemplifies what the organization does.
“The survivors take the first lap, and the teams cheer them on,” Pendley said. “That’s really what Relay is all about.”
About 300 survivors walked out of around 520.
The seven that held the banner were handpicked by the organization for their dedication, planning or fundraising efforts for the group.
“It’s a privilege to hold the banner,” Pendley said.
Monica Sandoval was in the center of the group, walking around the track with a smile on her face.
The 21-year-old is in her third round of cancer. She found out her cancer had returned two months after last year’s Relay event, but didn’t allow that to stop her from keeping a positive outlook.
“You can’t take small things for granted,” Sandoval said. “Don’t feel down, because what’s the point? You’re just going to make yourself feel more down.”
During the event, Sandoval wore a purple satin headband with purple tulle fabric falling from the back like long hair, partly covering up her own thinning brown hair.
She wore it in memory of a girl named Beth, who passed away two years ago from cancer. The two went through two rounds of chemotherapy together.
“She was like a little sister to me,” Sandoval said.
Before she died, they threw a princess-themed party and Beth gave the headband to Sandoval.
“It means the world to me,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval is currently undergoing treatment for her cancer.
Her close friend Sarah Robertson has been in remission for almost eight years. The two walked hand-in-hand during the Survivors Walk, a tradition they’ve kept the past three years.
Robertson, 19, has been coming to the event for years but it was her first time holding the banner.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Robertson said.
That feeling was echoed by Sandoval.
“Cancer can be lonely. During the walk, you’re not alone. You see there’s a lot of us (who had or have cancer),” Sandoval said.
The two laps around the deck were not an easy feat for her.
“I’m pooped,” she said.
Finishing the laps, she said, felt like a victory.
Betty Roper has been in remission from ovarian cancer for 35 years. The Dahlonega woman has participated in the Survivors Walk for about three years.
“You just feel so much love,” she said.