Cheers rang out and music played as 364 cancer survivors began their first lap at this year’s Relay for Life.
Elementary schools, high schools, churches, local businesses, friends and families from around Hall County lined the track at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus on Friday, May 11. They cheered on survivors as they passed by in their purple shirts and white sashes. Once they were halfway around the track, their caregivers joined in to finish the lap.
“These are our patients, these are our survivors,” said Ashley Belfance, clinical manager with the Longstreet Cancer Center. “I think for the survivors, and really for everybody, I think it’s unity. They’re not in the fight alone; they have someone with them always. And then the money that’s raised, we’re able to funnel that back in and help with patients.”
Belfance, along with many more from around the county joined in at the track to show their support and help raise money to fight cancer. This year’s goal, which wraps up in December, is $310,000.
Before Relay for Life started, the American Cancer Society had raised almost $193,000. From donations throughout the night and guests purchasing items from teams at tents surrounding the track, Relay for Life expected to raise at least $30,000 more during the night.
“Relay for Life is kind of an outlet for those that want to give back or for those that just want to fight back against cancer,” said Rena Pendley, senior community development manager with the American Cancer Society. “It’s an outlet for them to fundraise, to come participate, to come party and just have some fun. And for one night, be completely supported by a community.”
That’s what Pendley said the goal of Relay for Life is every year. For years, the event continued throughout the night. Since “cancer never sleeps” neither do those in attendance, she said.
That hadn’t been the case since 2012. This year was the first time since that Relay for Life was scheduled as an overnight event again, and Pendley was excited.
She said 40 percent of the 87 teams had committed to stay overnight, but was confident that would change.
“I’m telling you, when the entertainment starts up around 2 o’clock, they’re not going anywhere,” Pendley said.
It’s not just about the party, though. It’s about the survivors and showing support.
Bonnie Hays, who survived breast cancer, was there with her son who recently survived prostate cancer. She said they pray a lot in her family because her husband died of throat cancer, she has a sister who has bone cancer and another son who has prostate cancer.
Hays and her husband used to attend Relay for Life every year, but she said she hadn’t been out in a while since he died three years ago.
But this year, she asked her son to take her and walk with her. She said she almost backed out, but he wouldn’t let her, and in the end, she said she was happy she did it.
“I talked to some of the other survivors and I’m thankful that we can survive and come out here and celebrate,” Hays said.