Relay for Life celebrates hope in fight against cancer

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 4, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — What would you do to show how much you want a cure for cancer?
Thousands at the Rowan County Fairgrounds overnight walked in wigs, homemade T-shirts and other outfits for that cause.
They carried banners, held signs and let balloons fly into the air.
The annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society marched toward this year’s goal of $420,000 starting at 7 p.m. Friday.
Brittney Barnhardt, Rowan event chair, said she felt sure they’d make that goal.
With music from Darrell Harwood and the Coolwater Band, plus participation from Manu civic groups, churches and businesses, Barnhardt said this year’s Relay should be more exciting than ever,
More than 100 teams participated in the 12-hour walk, which included bake sales, a silent auction and other unique fundraising activities.
The China Grove Police Department had one of the most interesting.
For a donation, you could throw someone in “jail” — a wooden pen with bars, about 20 feet square.
When friends on the outside raised the requested amount, be it $5 or $25 or more, the “convict” got sprung from the makeshift pokey.
“We get to interact with the community,” said Officer J. Barlow of the China Grove Police, one of about 12 personnel who volunteered. “We’ll do anything we can to help out.”
“The economy is still difficult,” Barnhardt said. “But Rowan county still comes out, all forces, to make this a success for us.”
Last year’s event raised $411,000 for cancer research, she said.
Barnhardt is an eighth-grade teacher at China Grove Middle School. She’s also lost a loved one to cancer.
At her team’s table, her mother, Stacey Barnhardt, told of how Brittney’s teenage brother fell victim to rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer of the muscles.
“That’s why we’re relaying,” Stacey Barnhardt said. “It takes passion to stand up after losing someone.”
Young cancer survivors also walked for the cause last night, including one of Brittney Barnhardt’s students.
Tabitha Smith, 13, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 3. “It was unexpected,” Tabitha said. “We didn’t know what was wrong.”
After her diagnosis, she said, she spent a long time at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Asked what she remembers most about those months, she said she knew there were many people praying for her.
Today, she’s looking ahead from the eighth grade to high school, then to college.
She wants to become a lawyer.
“No one can get through it without people’s help and prayers,” she said.
“People who pray are the ones us survivors love most.”
During the survivors’ lap, as at every Relay for Life, applause and cheers went up as those who had fought, or were fighting, cancer walked.
Some were tearful. Other smiled defiantly and waved to friends along the track.
For Debbie Kurfees, a nurse case manager at Rowan Regional Medical Center, the Relay is a way to help the community.
She and other staff members worked a tent, selling refreshments and keepsakes to raise money for their team.
“It helps a lot of people. They need the research, and they’re making great strides,” said Kurfees, whose brother-in-law passed away two years ago, a victim of cancer.
Another local fundraising group, the Sweet Potato Queens, sold sweet treats from their booth.
With bright-red wigs and other finery, they say they’ve raised more than $160,000 in the last 11 years.
One of the group, Ann Teague, is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2009”
Both of her parents had died of cancer at a young age.
“When I was diagnosed, it became even more important to fight,” she said.
In addition to participating in Relay for Life events, the Sweet Potato Queens pray together and fellowship together.
It’s this kind of common, ongoing effort that makes the Relay for Life a success each year, Brittney Barnhardt said.
“Everyone comes together for one reason,” she said. “It’s an awesome challenge, but we’re all able to do it.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.