Relay brings hope

Published 11:22 pm Friday, May 16, 2014

A little rain wasn’t enough to stop the Relay For Life, with hundreds of participants joining the fight against cancer at Bennett’s Creek Park on Friday evening and Saturday morning.

According to the event website, 67 teams and 742 participants have raised more than $123,000 so far for the American Cancer Society.

At Bennett’s Creek Park on Friday with Brayden Fusco, 5, his great-nephew, hoisted atop his shoulders, Mark James, whose sister survived cancer, participates in the Survivors’ Lap of the Relay for Life.

At Bennett’s Creek Park on Friday with Brayden Fusco, 5, his great-nephew, hoisted atop his shoulders, Mark James, whose sister survived cancer, participates in the Survivors’ Lap of the Relay for Life.

Heather Howell, chair of the event, hailed the city of Suffolk for helping organizers keep the event on track despite a deluge overnight Thursday, describing it as “super supportive.”

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“It was a tough morning, because I thought we were going to be shut down,” Howell said. “But in true Suffolk fashion, the committee pulled together — and we are here to relay.”

As always, cancer survivors kicked off the Relay with the Survivors’ Lap. They set off around the course in a spirit of solidarity against a killer over which they all have triumphed.

Liz Hopkins of Team Riverfront, in third place among teams for fundraising with $1,855, according to the website, behind Subway with $2,400 and Warren’s Warriors with $4,852, described cancer having hit several members of her family alongside friends and neighbors.

“When that all happened, we decided that we needed to do something productive to help fight back,” Hopkins said.

“My husband’s brother was just diagnosed with prostate cancer — that’s why we keep doing it.”

Averi Pino, marching with husband Max and their children, Kalee, 11, “Bear,” 8, and Abbi, 2, battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma while her husband was “in and out of deployment” with the military.

“I went into remission in October 2009, praise God,” she said. “It means a lot to see the awareness out there. That is the most important part to me.”

As a child, Eric Pulley, another survivor, battled acute lymphatic leukemia, and then leukemia. He said he has been in remission for 20 years.

“It makes me feel good,” Pulley said of the Relay’s strong turnout, adding that he aims to inspire those walking where he has trodden.

“Hopefully they can see me, and what I have been able to accomplish, and get inspiration from that,” he said.

Addressing the crowd before the survivors and then other participants set out, Mayor Linda T. Johnson struck a hopeful tone.

“We want to beat this disease,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we can do what we can to help ourselves stay healthy.”

Delegate Chris Jones cited the ever-improving odds of surviving cancer — a “one-in-two” chance “back in the 70s,” and a “seven-in-ten” chance today.

He described his own mother’s life being taken, telling participants, “I know what inspires you is their memory.”