Shoes slap the ground in a quiet cadence — feet, not hands, offering applause. It’s a victory lap, a time of triumph, but Pam Davis contemplates more than she celebrates.
Cancer survivors make the first trip around the track each year in the Richmond County Relay for Life. Davis, who is two decades in remission and serves as co-chairwoman of Friday’s event, will think of her past and others’ future.
“I just use it as a time to reflect on things I’ve gone through with my cancer and what other people have gone through,” she said. “It’s kind of a lap of reflection.”
The team walk to fund cancer research and help defray treatment costs is planned from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday outside the Cole Auditorium at Richmond Community College in Hamlet. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 for the American Cancer Society by the time participants cross the finish line.
Relay teams need more donations in order to meet that goal. About $60,000 had been collected as of Tuesday night, when participants turned in their contributions and picked up Relay for Life T-shirts at Sandhills Regional Medical Center.
“This is all about finding a cure,” said Kim Puckett, who co-chairs the relay with Davis. “We want to find a cure. The money goes to research, and it also goes to support the people who are fighting cancer.”
WHAT DONATIONS BUY
Teams raised $98,237 in last year’s Richmond County Relay for Life, said Cameron Whitley, who coordinates Charlotte-area relays for the American Cancer Society.
The national nonprofit is the largest underwriter of cancer research in the United States and has helped fund nearly every major breakthrough since 1946, according to the American Cancer Society website. The group also provides transportation and lodging for patients and caregivers who often have to travel long distances to receive treatment.
“The mission of the American Cancer Society in short is to help people get well, stay well, find cures and fight back,” Whitley said.
Organizers said a six-figure total would be impressive as North Carolina’s Sandhills region battles back from the Great Recession. Richmond County’s relay topped $194,000 in 2006, before economic woes closed some corporate sponsors’ doors and forced many families to limit their charitable giving.
“A lot of the money goes to research,” Whitley said. “It doesn’t matter where the research is happening — it benefits the whole of our community. If a drug is being developed in a hospital in New York, it will help people right here in Richmond County.”
Relay for Life is a team fundraising effort. Businesses, churches, civic groups and families form relay teams and solicit donations. At least one member of each team walks the course for the six-hour event’s duration.
SURVIVORS FIGHT BACK
Before teams take to the track, cancer patients and those in remission open the annual event with the survivors’ lap.
“For the people who are undergoing treatment or have just been diagnosed, it’s an amazing moment to be able to stand beside someone who has been in remission for 26 years,” Whitley said. “It shows them that there is hope.”
As the sun sets, luminaries purchased in memory of someone who died of cancer or in honor of a living survivor light the track.
Participating in the walk is often cathartic and empowering for cancer survivors, a physical act that symbolizes their physiological struggle with the disease.
“They feel like they’re fighting back against a disease that’s taken something from them,” Whitley said.
Spectators and team members awaiting their turn on the track enjoy a festival atmosphere while the walk takes place. Vendors will be on hand to sell food, drinks and T-shirts, and Heavenly Accord, the Cameronian Quartet, Dixie Ambush and the Richmond Senior High School chorus will provide the soundtrack.
“The tents are set up kind of in a circle, and the track runs around the outside,” Whitley said. “They’ll have hamburgers, hot dogs, pinto beans, hush puppies. You name it, it’s going to be here.”
Relay for Life also will feature a bounce house and various kids’ games and activities.
“It’s a time that the community really does come together,” Davis said. “I guess we’re all fighting the same battle. Almost everyone has a family member who has had cancer or someone they know who has gone through it.”
HOW TO HELP
Friday will be the first relay held at Richmond Community College’s Cole Auditorium. Richmond Senior High and the Rockingham Speedway have hosted the event in previous years.
The teams and individuals who raise the most money will be recognized during the event. A full 39 teams and 641 participants were registered on the local Relay for Life website as of Wednesday.
A 30-member team from the Pee Dee and Zion United Methodist churches is leading the field with more than $10,400 in contributions. The Sandhills Regional Medical Center team is in second place with a fundraising total topping $5,800.
Money will be collected until the relay’s 6 p.m. Friday start and throughout the event’s duration. Organizers say there’s still time to sponsor a team or participant, donate directly to Relay for Life or purchase a luminary to honor or remember a loved one. Puckett said all Richmond County residents are encouraged to get involved.
“They may not have heard about Relay, but they definitely have heard about cancer,” she said. “This is all about finding a cure.”
To find a relay team to support or make a donation online, visit the Richmond County Relay for Life website via this shortened address: http://bit.ly/RAciys.
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-3111, ext. 13.