‘Between memory and hope’ — Relay for Life honors cancer survivors, seeks a cure
SALISBURY — Mike Brady, chair of this year’s Rowan County Relay For Life, has been involved with the event for longer than he can remember.
“Since it was at Catawba” is the nearest he can recall, on the spot.
But he’s far from alone.
As the annual charity event for cancer research kicked off, Brady said that a lot of the same people come back, year after year.
They celebrate milestones together. Cancer survivors, carnations in hand, walked their lap together, led by the Jessie C. Carson High School drumline.
Some were smiling and waving as the onlookers applauded.
Others cried quiet tears.
One man walked with a little girl. Families walked together.
Before giving his invocation, Pastor Mark Burns, of Mount Zion United Church of Christ, China Grove, told the crowd that both he and his wife are cancer survivors.
“We live our lives between memory and hope,” Burns said.
He prayed that God would bless the survivors and “those who give of their time, talents and treasure” to support the search for a cure.
There were some minor changes at this year’s event, including a new stage layout.
But for those who go to the Relay For Life annually, the annual ritual is a time to be thankful, and to have fun for a good cause.
“If the weather cooperates, we hope to have about our average, about 13,000 people,” Brady said.
Debbie Martin, entertainment co-chairperson, said 104 teams had registered.
Over at the tent of team B.J. and Friends, Becky Sifford prepared hot dogs and trimmings for a steady crowd.
She said her team raised $29,111 last year.
“It’s just so powerful to see these people all out here at the same time, and for the same purpose,” said Sifford, whose husband Mike was helping, while daughter Wendy walked with fellow cancer survivors.
“My daddy passed away with brain cancer, 1993,” said Chuck Misenheimer, another member of B.J. and Friends.
He and wife Joellen got involved that same year, Misenheimer said.
“That’s why we do what we do, is to give them another birthday, those who’ve got cancer,” Misenheimer said.
A little farther up the track, Madison Sides, senior at South Rowan High School, said she’s come to Relay For Life all four of her high school years.
“When I watch the survivors, that’s probably my favorite part,” Sides said.
The rows of luminarias honoring those with cancer “just blew my mind how cancer affects everybody in this city,” Sides said.
Sarah Crawley, a junior at South Rowan High, has seen the event from both perspectives.
She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, but Crawley said she also came to Relay For Life as a middle school student.
“I got a lot more into it,” Crawley said. “I’m really into raising awareness of childhood cancer.”
Inside one of the exhibit buildings, cosmetology students from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College set up stations to cut hair for donation.
Angela Hoover, team leader, said she had over 60 volunteers — both current students and graduates — who hoped to collect hair for later use in wigs for cancer patients.
“Some of our staff are survivors, we have students who are survivors,” Hoover said.
“We go through over 200 feet of hair in about an hour and a half, I would say between 75 and 85 donors,” Hoover said.
Dr. Greg Mitro, of Southeast Radiation Oncology, was one of three people chosen to read the names of several hundred cancer survivors.
“We sit in the clinic, we take care of people with cancer,” Dr. Mitro said. “We see them for that finite period.”
Reading the names “makes it more real, to just sees survivors and people who fought this disease and lived,” he said.
And doing so, Mitro said, “makes what we’re doing worthwhile.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.