05/20/17 — Relay for Life: The fight continues

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Relay for Life: The fight continues

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 20, 2017 10:09 PM

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Suzy Vanhoozier holds her daughter Cora's hand during the opening prayer at Relay for Life Friday night. Suzy's husband is a 17-year cancer survivor, but was unable to attend the event this year.

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Survivors begin their lap during the annual Relay for Life event held Friday night at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

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Madison Jones and Saylor Sadler, 2, hold the sign to lead the caregivers' lap at Relay for Life Friday night at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. They were among several caregivers walking for honorary chair CeCe Thornton.

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Trudy Coker and Steve Murphy, an eight-year non-Hodgkin Lymphoma survivor, enjoy dinner during their annual date at Relay for Life Friday night. The couple's first real date was at the event 5 years ago. They are now engaged.

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Members of Woods Grove Church light luminaries beside their booth Friday night. In addition to bag luminaries some groups decorated ladders and some had torches.

Lorie Waddell checked out a display of luminary at the entrance to Relay for Life on Friday night at the Wayne County fairgrounds.

She has been coming to the event since 2008, the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I have had two recurrences since 2008," she said. "But right now I'm good, all clear."

She was accompanied by her two sons, Garrett, 11, and Hayden, 13, students at Faith Christian Academy.

"They have come out here and walked the Survivors Walk before," she said. "They have certainly supported me throughout treatments and everything else."

Bobby Holland, strolling around the track with his fiancee's son, Dylan Modica, figured up he has attended the annual event for going on five years.

"My grandpa died of lung cancer and my fiancée (Hannah Gardner's) grandmother is a breast cancer survivor," he said.

Booths lined the track, selling T-shirts and other souvenirs as well as an array of food items, all to support the signature event that benefits research and the American Cancer Society.

The Woods Grove Church booth featured hot dogs and drinks as well as strawberry shortcake. The "Church Lifesavers" team is about 16 members strong, men and women, said Linda Gurganus, captain.

Several parishioners at the church have been affected by the disease.

"I've had it twice," Ms. Gurganus said. "2002 was my first, and 2010 was my second."

Supporting the local Relay for Life has become a passion of hers, she said.

"My mother and my sister died from it," she said. "I saw what it did to them.

"We've come so far with research."

She is living proof of that, she said, thankful to be among the survivors.

"I'm hoping one day that there will be a cure," she said. "There may not be a cure, but we're getting longer years of quality of life."

Rita Hare has plenty going on at home -- her daughter just had twins, she said, and her mother is in the hospital. But she still turned out to support her church and Ms. Gurganus.

"That's my buddy. I have known her ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," she said with a laugh.

Kicking off the event was the Eastern Wayne High School band.

At the opening ceremony, several were introduced, including the three event leads, Paula Cox, Ashley Woodard and Vicki Terrell.

Wearing a Mad Hatter hat, Ms. Cox called the evening an amazing gathering.

"Just look around us -- family, friends, community, business, community leaders, grandparents and neighbors are all here to finish the fight against cancer," she said.

They were there to celebrate those who battled cancer and remember those who lost the battle, while renewing the commitment to fight back and end it once and for all, she said.

They all have something in common, Ms. Terrell said.

"We want to make a difference in the fight against cancer," she said.

In addition to entertainment that included such local singers Margo Smith and Karen Stallings, this year's event featured two bands, Digger Foot and Ordnary Gentlemen.

Arnold Jones sang the national anthem, with Kirk Keller and Geoff Hulse serving as emcees.

Hulse, an attorney, said he and Jones, a former superior court judge, had something in common -- both had lost their heroes to cancer. Hulse's father, who also practiced law, contracted colon cancer in 1987, he said.

"He was struck down, and it was probably within a year from his diagnosis to his death," he said.

Jones' father, meanwhile, also a superior court judge, was diagnosed with lung cancer around 2000.

"It was 17 years almost to the day that he was diagnosed," the younger Jones said, recalling the irony of seeing TV commercial before the diagnosis.

"It said, 'If cancer has not affected your life, chances are it will.'"

Amanda McMurray has spent the bulk of her life as a survivor. Being diagnosed with leukemia at age 6 1/2, she overcame a lot and has appreciated her survivorship.She began attending Relay for Life events in Greenville, while a student at East Carolina University, before learning about the event in Wayne County.

"I look forward to it every year," she said.