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Relay for Life continues as an inspiration

Another year, another outstanding effort.

The 2007 Hertford-Gates Relay for Life is now in the history book. And what a history-making event it was.

As it is at every Relay for Life event I’ve covered over the years, the crowning moment comes with the official announcement of how much money was raised. This year that news came as a pleasant surprise to all in attendance.

When Evelyn Rawls blurted out “two hundred twenty-three thousand, five hundred and 66 dollars,” my mouth dropped to my knees. How can two small counties cause all this?

But, as things turned out, that figure wasn’t the bottom line. A couple of late donations pushed the total over $225,000. That figure is still climbing, according to Wanda Lassiter, the 2007 Hertford-Gates Relay for Life chairperson.

Folks, unless my math is all wrong, that’s only $25,000 short of a quarter-million dollars. Maybe that wouldn’t be all that impressive if this Relay were held in Pitt, Wake, Guilford or Mecklenburg County. But this is tiny Hertford County and even tinier Gates County where even if you combined their respective populations they wouldn’t even match the size of one neighborhood in Raleigh, Greensboro or Charlotte.

Heck, even my boss, Jeff Findley, told me that in his home county of Chilton in Alabama (with a population of 40,000) doesn’t even raise $100,000 during their annual Relay for Life.

Reaching nearly a quarter-million bucks in two rural, not to mention financially depressed, counties speaks volumes for the heart and soul of our residents. Private citizens, churches, educational groups and businesses dug deep and proved once again how passionate we are when it comes to trying to find a cure for cancer.

That little six-letter word has caused plenty of misery and grief. I doubt if you can find one family in our little area of the state that has not had at least one relative affected by cancer.

Cancer shows no mercy. It’s color blind, doesn’t care about gender or age or even financial status. It can strike anyone at any time.

My mom died of liver cancer in 2004. My dad’s oldest brother passed away decades ago from the disease. My father-in-law, Louis Vann, lost his battle. On the other side of the coin, both my wife and my sister were diagnosed with cancer. Both underwent operations and, with the good Lord’s blessing, are cancer-free today.

It’s through the efforts of the American Cancer Society that advancements have been made in research. That organization should also be commended for their educational programs where they have used various avenues to reach out to as many people as possible to address the warning signs of cancer and the available options for treatment. They also offer support programs for cancer patients.

Nobody wants to hear that they have cancer. Fifty years ago that was like receiving an automatic death sentence. But, again, thanks to the ACS and Relay for Life, the money raised has led to one medical advancement after another. Cancer is not the same beast it once was, but it takes early detection and proper treatment to win the battle.

I got hooked on Relay in 1994 in Bertie County. There, my wife was one year removed from a surgical procedure that undoubtedly saved her life. It’s been one of my most favorite events to cover since that time.

Nothing sends a chill down your spine more than the pure emotion of witnessing the Survivors ceremony or feel the tears being to build in your eyes when 2,000 luminaries are lit.

Those tears were there again this year as my mom’s name appeared on the “In Memory” screen where she was listed among those cancer patients who had lost their battle. Then, in an instant, a broad smile appears when you see the names of your wife and your sister listed among those who have stared cancer squarely in the eye and won.

Then you walk along the Relay for Life route, its path lined with luminaries where that small flicker of light shines as bright as sun, bathing me with the warmness and the love that burned within those who have lost their individual battles as well as those who have survived.

I commend the local efforts of those who organize our Relay for Life events in Hertford, Gates and Bertie counties. Often, those who are leading the way are either cancer survivors or someone who has a personal connection to a victim of this disease. Your efforts continue to inspire, entertain and motivate me to continue the crusade against cancer.