For years, the Cherokee County Relay For Life Committee has sold luminaries in honor and in memory of those who have battled cancer. A few years ago they added torches and this year family members and loved ones released the sky lanterns and held a moment of silence as they floated upward and faded away into the night.
“I’ve been real encouraged,” said Shirley Holland, new American Cancer Society representative for Cherokee County.
“We have had a couple of meetings prior to now and a lot of the people who are here have done this for many, many years, so they know what they are doing. Me being new won’t affect it being successful. They are already way ahead of the game. They have worked really hard all year. And tonight is the celebration.”
“Candace Flynt is our chairperson this year,” said Holland. “She is very young and is a cancer survivor. She has done a great job. Last year when she was battling cancer, she saw her name on a (luminary) bag somebody had bought for her and didn’t even know it. That is a community story right there. And she has three little boys. Survivor stories are incredible.”
This year’s event raised more than $55,000, with funds still coming in. The initial goal was $65,155. But the Cherokee County Relay For Life committee will continue accepting funds through August.
“We will get there!” said Holland. “We want to help to make more birthdays. That is our goal.”
The weather for the event couldn’t have been better. Rains subsided for the event and temperatures weren’t as humid as they often are for this time of year. In fact, many started putting on their jackets before the evening was over as temperatures dipped into the 50s later in the evening.
Eighteen-year Cancer Survivor Mary Ruth Ray took part in the activities again this year, accompanied by granddaughter, Kayla Ray.
“Oh, it is always fun,” said Mrs. Ray. “I always have a good time. I participate almost every year.”
Ray was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after doctors discovered she had a growth in her throat.
“I had to take radioactive Iodine in Birmingham,” said Ray. “I had to do it three times.”
Today, however, she is cancer free and would urge others to take part in Relay For Life.
“I sure would!” said Ray. “They do a good job. We appreciate everybody coming out.”
“It is always a great time for everybody to get together,” said Kayla. “It is beautiful outside.”
Karstin Brewis sang the National Anthem to start things off for the evening, which was followed by the opening Survivor Lap, Caregiver Lap and then the Team Laps.
Musical entertainment include the B Team Angels, Shae Suirklar, the musical team of Ashley Manley, Dereck Washburn and Angela Knott, Kim Armstrong, Savannah Leighton and Bonita Elleen.
At 9 p.m. the luminaria ceremony began which including the light of bags in memory and honor accompanied by a message by Chairman Candace Flynt, the lighting of torches and the light of sky lanterns.
Flynt shared her powerful testimony of being diagnosed with Carcinoid Tumors as a young mother of three boys and strongly urged citizens to see their doctors if they merely suspect something may be wrong. It was her own experience that encouraged her to become part of Relay For Life and to ultimately assume the chairperson position.
This year’s Relay For Life Teams included Alexis Women, Cedar Bluff Beta Club, Centre Baptist Church, Fairview Methodist Church, Generations Bank, Health Occupations Students of America, Leesburg Homemakers Club, New Beginnings, Providence Baptist Church, Sarrell Dental Center, Soul Survivors, Team Angela, Team CES, Team CVS, Team David, Team Lum, Team Piney, Wal-Mart Winners and Wounded Spirit.
This year’s Relay For Life sponsors were T.D.S. Telecom Systems, Alabama Cancer Center, Goody’s, Cherokee Medical Center, Cherokee Electric Cooperative, Dixie Green, American Apparel. Dean’s Pharmacy, American Auctioneers, Preferred Health Services, Rehab Partners, Generations Bank, Patti Ford, PEMCO, Perry Funeral Home and Alfa Insurance.
The 2012 Relay for Life Committee is composed of Candace Flynt, chairperson; Wendy Woodall, Misty Farrell, Debbie Smith, Sucressa West, Leann Roberts, Teresa Garmon, Katie Reese, Martha Perry, Edna Jolly, Heather Mitchell, Melissa Culpepper, Charlotte Grimes, Joyce Gilliland, Karen Walden and Latosoca Starr.
“I think it has gone really well,” said Flynt. “I think a lot of people have been touched, encouraged and motivated just to keep fighting and keep going. I really do.”
“I want one day to hear somebody else to say ‘I am a survivor too,” said Flynt. “As many people who can say ‘I am a survivor,’ the better. And I love hearing the testimonies and stories of the other survivors. They are really touching.”
“Last year I didn’t even know what Relay was,” said Flynt. “When I came around, it was actually around this corner, I looked down and saw my bag with my name on it and I thought who did that? I didn’t even know the person. That is when it really just opened my eyes and touched me. It is a time of reflecting and thanking God for what He brought you through.”