The disease knows no age limit, race limit, gender limit. It can touch anyone, but the mood Friday at Elkin Municipal Park was one of celebration as cancer survivors were cheered on in the first lap of the night for Relay for Life of Elkin.
Mid-afternoon storms tried to dampen the spirits of those coming out for the event, but they couldn’t stop them, with the skies clearing off shortly before the 6 p.m. kick-off at the bandstand. Teams’ tents were set up on either side of the walking track near the starting line, which was marked with a purple and white inflatable archway, the colors of cancer awareness.
With a goal of raising nearly $25,000, when the relay, which kept walkers on the track until midnight, began, Elkin Relay Committee Chairwoman Sherry Chappell reported more than $20,000 already had been taken in by the fundraising campaign of the 27 teams participating.
Any money raised between now and Dec. 24 will be credited to the 2016 Relay for Life event, but teams must turn in their money to qualify for incentives and prizes by Aug. 31.
Fundraising continued throughout the night Friday as the teams set up sold popcorn, BBQ sandwiches, walking tacos, drinks, and one booth even offered S’mores over a small ringed campfire.
As the relay kicked off, the survivors lined up at the microphone to share with the crowd gathered their name and how many years they’ve been a survivor, whether they’d won the battle or were still fighting it.
Relay Committee members and cancer survivors, Taylor McKnight and Gerald Lingenfelter carried the banner out front as the survivors walked the lap around the track circling the bandstand while “Celebration” played loudly on the speaker system.
The second lap of the night was honoring caregivers, featuring “Lean on Me” and “Hero” on the speakers.
For Crystal Sloan, Friday was not her first Relay for Life as a survivor, but it was the first time she got to celebrate with her daughter, 7-month-old Sophia Smith.
“I’m an eight year survivor,” Sloan said, adding 2016 was her third Relay for Life experience.
She said relay is important to her, “because one I’m a cancer survivor and my birth mother died of the same cancer I have, so that means a lot to be here today for me and her.”
Beth Sloan, Crystal’s mother, explained that when Crystal was in ninth grade she had started losing hair and was being treated for thyroid disease. “She’s been with us since she was 3 and she was adopted when she was 7,” said Beth.
Around the same time Crystal was having her own health struggles, Beth said they got a call that her birth mother was fighting thyroid cancer. As soon as the call came, Beth said they called Crystal’s doctor and told him. “Two weeks later, we got the diagnosis,” Beth said of Crystal’s cancer. “We were in shock.
“She was getting ready to go to prom,” but the doctor told her to go on and they would start Crystal’s treatment after prom, Beth said.
Crystal said she was able to visit her birth mother in the hospital and again at hospice. “I hadn’t seen my birth mother for 10 years,” she said.
Now she is taking certified nursing assistant courses with hopes of being a CNA and eventually working for hospice.
Geri Gilliam, who was making walking tacos at the Cracker Barrel team’s booth, said relay was important to her, “because cancer has affected so many people in my family’s life.”
Her grandmother defeated cancer, and Gilliam, whose husband is a member of the Relay Committee, said she’s had cousins who have battled cancer as well.
Walmart team member Brandy Childress of Thurmond said her involvement is also due to family connections with cancer. “My father-in-law has cancer and my aunt passed away due to cancer,” she said.
“I think [relay] helps support people who have cancer,” Childress said.
Later in the evening for a short time, the mood turned more somber as luminaries lining the track were lit and a short service was held to remember those who lost their battle with cancer.
The fund raised by Relay for Life teams is used locally by the American Cancer Society to support cancer patients by providing them a hotline to call to learn about resources available to them, providing transportation to and from treatments and for research projects when they are being conducted.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.