Every candle has a name
by John DeFoor
Sep 11, 2011 | 3817 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Luminaries line both sides of the athletic track at Dellinger Park as hundreds of walkers make their laps in support of finding a cure for cancer.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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From Friday evening till the foggy crack of dawn on Saturday, cancer survivors and caregivers gathered together for The American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life" at Dellinger Park in Cartersville. The yearly event celebrates the lives of those fighting cancer, remembers those lost to cancer and works to raise funds to fight cancer.

Martha McMorris, 73, was among the event's first timers. "Seeing all the survivors smiling -- its just a good feeling," she said. "I had no idea this was such a big event. Its almost like a carnival or fair atmosphere ... I met another lady at dinner who has the exact same cancer I have." McMorris was able to give advice such as the difference of shaving or buzzing one's head and where to get a free wig. McMorris has five children and 11 grandchildren. She said she hoped to do one lap at the relay.

The event united a collection of local schools, businesses and churches, all there to help fundraise. Like a carnival, the event sold a variety of food including "deep-fried twinkies" and hosted a variety of activities such as a dunking booth and bouncing house. Many tents at the relay also featured cancer-related themes including a pirate themed tent called "Pirates of the Cure-i-bbean" with the slogan "Where Every Birthday is a Treasure," a superhero-themed tent with several individuals dressed as superheroes such as Spiderman and Wonder Woman, and "Sleepless for Survivors," where a tent was decorated with bras hanging from Christmas lights. Event performers included an Elvis impersonator, the clogging group "Bootscooters" from the Bartow County Senior Center, several church choirs, and a variety of other performers.

"I'm thankful for everyone giving their time and performing for free," said Jennifer Bagley-Stanfield. She acted as the entertainment coordinator for the Bartow event and scheduled the relay's several performances. "Basically a phone call, that's all it takes. Everyone shows up and shows out."

Seventeen-year-old Cade Walker and his grandfather Dan Larimer from Cartersville were among the survivors at the event. Cade is a senior at Adairsville High School who learned a week before Christmas that he had a brain tumor. "He's asked me things about how I got through it," said his grandfather who had cancer in 2007. "We both look at things a little different now." While Larimer said he and Cade have always been close, he said the fight against cancer has brought them even closer together.

"I was blessed they found my cancer early," Larimer said. "I thank God for it. People need to be checked so they can be diagnosed early." Larimer said that since Cade's chemotherapy and radiation, the tumor has shrunk halfway. "They'll do a MRI in the first of October."

The relay began a little after 7 p.m. with a lap for cancer survivors. Dressed in purple t-shirts, they gathered on Dellinger Park's athletic track. Each held a purple balloon. "One year as a cancer survivor," said the announcer, and all those who had survived a year released their balloon. "Two years ..." the announcer continued, then "three years ..." A spectacular cloud of purple balloons filled the sky as the announcer continued to name the various years these people fought and survived against cancer. Then the relay began -- the first lap for the survivors, the second for the caregivers, and then the relay carried on throughout the night. Cade's mother, Danielle Walker quoted Larimer saying during the first lap, "No grandfather should have to walk the survivor lap with their grandson."

Later into the evening the Luminary Ceremony began. Around the athletic track sat a collection of bags called luminaries, gold or white, all decorated and placed in memory and/or honor of those affected by cancer. "Every candle has a name," the luminaries read. In the darkness of the night, candles inside the luminaries were lit and families, friends, and fellow cancer survivors gathered together.

Danielle Walker describes the ceremony as a roller coaster of emotion. "You're happy for a second -- happy for the survivors and sad for another." She said she would not miss it for the world.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Anthony Heaton, a survivor of Non-Hodgkins Limpoma. He joined his family and friends arm and arm, with himself in the middle. "The emotions are off the chart."

As the event carried on late into the night, people continued their walk while the performers continued performing for them.

"We with our health feel fortunate," said Debbie Alexander. "One night's sleep is nothing compared to what they [cancer survivors] go through. I've had skin cancer, but never had to have chemo." Alexander attended with her fellow members of Stamp Creek Baptist Church.

Early in the morning, people continued walking including Heaton. "I'm doing chemo and I haven't stopped," he said. Heaton's cancer was diagnosed the week before Easter after three years of remission. "My reason for walking was for all the support I had," he said. "I want to show my kids anything worth having is worth fighting for." Heaton said he has raised $6,650 and hopes to raise more.

Melanie Collier, one of the co-chairs of the event, said that the amount raised by the event is close to $250,000 and that the relay "had one of the biggest crowds we ever had."

"Keep up the fight, that's what we got to do," said Jeff Segars, a caregiver who lost his wife two years ago to Pancreatic cancer. "They're not going to find the cure without people like us raising money."