Cheers and tears: Relay for Life weekend finale celebrates team effort

Joyce Manis, Carmie Lewis, Harriot Irwin and Kay Beason proudly display the Survivors banner as they take the lap at Relay for Life.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Joyce Manis, Carmie Lewis, Harriot Irwin and Kay Beason proudly display the Survivors banner as they take the lap at Relay for Life.

Relay for Life event chair Debby Curtis had tears in her eyes and a smile on her face as she and other volunteers cheered on everyone participating in Survivors Walk to kick off the 2011 Relay for Life.

Before the event started June 3 at Maryville College, Curtis said she thought about all the hard work everyone put in to make the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society a reality.

Then, as the cancer survivors waved to friends and family who were cheering them on, Curtis said she realized who was really doing the hard work.

“You look back over 12 months, and you have put in a lot of work. But then you sit back and see the survivors, and you realize what you have done is so little compared to these courageous people,” she said. “They’ve given their blood, sweat, tears and energy.”

Curtis praised the volunteers. “I think it was an excellent event, just absolutely successful and wonderful,” she said. “The volunteers really brought their A-game and did a wonderful job of organizing things and making sure things were set up and flowed smoothly.”

Curtis said final figures haven’t been tabulated, but it appeared more than $40,000 was raised the night of the event. “That is going to put us at around $200,000. Of course there will be money coming in, and some teams still have events planned through the summer. They still have monies they are depositing at the bank, so we expect that total to continue to grow,” she said.

Curtis said the committee organizing this year’s event didn’t set a dollar goal. “We anticipated that there might be a little bit of a downturn due to the economic climate so we didn’t want to set a firm dollar amount,” she said. “We didn’t want folks to look at it from a dollar standpoint. It is all about the fight against cancer, and we wanted folks to focus on being engaged in the event and making sure survivors and caregivers were recognized and supported. We certainly feel they accomplished that.”

Jennie Bounds, marketing and public relations director for Blount Memorial Hospital, said Relay is an opportunity for those who see patients dealing with cancer in a fun community event. “They see them four-to-five weeks at a time, and we’ve built some strong relationships. That’s one reason I like to come. I get to see some of the cancer patients we’ve worked with.”

Johnnie Sparks of Townsend is a 20-year breast cancer survivor. She said she appreciated the support from the community at Relay for Life. “People don’t know how you feel until they go through it, and I hope they don’t have to,” she said.

Carol Privett of Maryville is a three-year cancer survivor who said her brother, Bill Orr, died of colon cancer. “I work at the cancer center as a volunteer,” she said. “This means a lot.”

Tina Johnson of Blount County is a three-year cancer survivor and said the event means a lot to her. “I can’t believe there are people who will do so much for us,” she said.

Dwayne Ackerman, a Blount County reserve deputy, said he is always inspired by Relay for Life and didn’t hesitate to volunteer to work security because he battled testicular cancer from 1978 to 1992. He said that because of the efforts of Relay for Life, research created new treatments that extended his life and helped him beat cancer. The money for research pays off, said Ackerman. “Before cancer was always a death sentence,” he said.

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