By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Participants in Edgecombe County’s 17th Annual Relay for Life celebrated victories over cancer, remembered those who lost the battle with cancer and fought back against the disease.
The participants fought back by raising $131,642.85 for the American Cancer Society and walking around the Tarboro High School track throughout the night to symbolize the fact that cancer never sleeps. The cold, windy weather didn’t keep down the event attendees, which was in the hundreds.
“We prayed for no rain. We got no rain. We forgot to ask for no wind,” Relay co-chair Susan New told the crowd at the Relay kickoff, recalling the rains the put a damper on last year’s Relay.
Relay began on a celebratory note at 6 p.m. Friday, with cancer survivors walking a first lap around track. One of the oldest survivors walking the track was 80-year-old Carlton Moseley of Tarboro, a four-year survivor of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“I’m appreciative, very thankful, very fortunate,” said Moseley, regarding winning the battle with cancer. He has been participating in Relay ever since he had cancer.
“It’s a good activity. It keeps people aware of the need for continued support for a cure,” said Moseley.
Among the Relay participants still undergoing cancer was 10-year-old Simon Owens of Tarboro. Owens’ mother Johanna Owens found a mole on his arm and a biopsy revealed childhood melanoma, so Owens had two surgeries in April to remove the lymph nodes. He has a follow-up checkup in Greenville soon. Childhood melanoma is rare, with only 500 cases diagnosed per year in the United States.
“He’s pretty special,” said Johanna Owens. Owens was happy to take part in this year’s Relay, even though he was primarily in the company of much older cancer survivors.
“I was looking around for anyone close to my age and I didn’t see anyone,” said Owens. “It feels great, knowing that there are so many people around you who have gone through the same thing.”
Along with his mother and father Tripp Owens, Owens had the support of his 7-year-old sister Sadie Owens at Relay. Sadie Owens worked at a homemade lemonade stand for the past month and raised $1,276 for Relay.
With the strides being made in cancer treatments, Joe Varnell of Pinetops expects to see many more survivors at Relay in the future. Varnell earned the title of “caregiver of the year.” He walked a lap around the track with his wife Jackie Varnell, along with other caregivers and cancer survivors.
“It’s real good to see the people who come back year after year and just the fact that so many people are living longer now and the strides that have been made with curing cancer,” said Varnell.
Jackie Varnell is an eight-year survivor of ovarian cancer. Her first year of Relay, she cried all the way around the track. Now, she goes to Relay to support other cancer survivors, and to be a testimony to others. The Varnells were members of the Proctors Chapel Baptist Church team, and decorated their campsite in a “Duck Dynasty” theme.
Jackie Varnell said her husband’s support and positive attitude during her battle with cancer gave her strength in a time of weakness.
“He has such a strong heart for God and for people,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone in my life who always sees the bright side of everything … It just helps you to face tomorrow.”
Relay had its reflective moments, among them the 9 p.m. luminary ceremony, when the main lights on the field were turned off and the soft light of luminaries served as a reminder of loved ones who did not survive cancer.
In between the somber moments, a spirit of celebration and “fight back” determination prevailed at Relay. Many teams sold festival-style food at their creatively decorated tents. Bra and boxer decorating contests raised awareness of breast and prostate cancer.
Nell Skiles, captain of the Ding-A-Lings, earned the “spirit of Relay” award, leading her team in ringing a bell throughout the night and engaging in boxing rounds with fellow team member Betty Murchison to symbolize the fight against cancer.
“Once it’s all over with, we knock the cancer out,” said Skiles,
At the “fight back” ceremony Saturday morning, balloons were released symbolizing the wish for a cure for cancer and participants walked a final victory lap around the track.
“I’m going to continue to celebrate, remember and fight back,” Relay co-chair Stephen Eason told the crowd at the “fight back” ceremony. Cancer claimed the life of Eason’s grandmother, and that was his impetus to become involved with Relay.