Hundreds fight into the night
Published 10:53 pm Friday, May 20, 2016
Hundreds of people drew strength, inspiration and healing for the fight against cancer at Relay for Life of Suffolk this weekend.
The event started near sundown on Friday at Nansemond River High School. Participants walked the track throughout the night to represent the long, dark fight against cancer and wrapped up the event at sunrise, representing the moment a survivor is declared cancer-free.
With the Dr. Seuss-inspired theme “Cancer: Not here, not there, not anywhere,” the event featured plenty of Cat in the Hat hats and other Seuss-inspired garb.
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Prior to the beginning of the event, participants had raised more than $99,000, said Dana DeFreeuw, People Lead for Relay for Life. As teams conducted fundraisers throughout the night, including games and food sales, that total was expected to quickly surpass the $100,000 mark.
For many people at the event, it was their first time participating in Relay, but they were inspired by a friend or family member’s fight against cancer to come out and participate.
Bursting onto the Relay scene this year was Team Janine, named in honor of Janine Joyner, a local woman who is currently battling leukemia.
The team, which numbered 52 members, was honored for having the most participants as well as highest-fundraising rookie team and highest-fundraising team overall so far. The fundraising season lasts for three more months.
“A lot of our team members hadn’t done Relay before,” said Alex Joyner, Janine Joyner’s daughter.
When Joyner was first diagnosed, she was in isolation, family friend Lisa Rath said, so nobody could even go visit her.
“We couldn’t sit back and do nothing, so this is what we could do to show her how much we loved her,” Rath said.
The team formed and fundraised in about three months and quickly rocketed to the top spot in all three categories. Alex Joyner said Rath, Heather Shank and Logan Masters, all friends of the family, helped tremendously. Local eateries Derl’z, Panera and Chick-fil-A also helped the team by allowing it to have fundraisers at their locations.
Also participating in her first Relay was Anne Boffo, who lost her 27-year-old son, Michael, to leukemia in August after a four-month battle. He had previously battled renal cancer.
“This is pretty amazing,” she said, looking at the luminarias people had purchased in his memory that lined a good portion of the track. She called it a healing experience.
On the other side of the track at Arrowhead Stadium, Edward Smith cooked food and discussed his own multiple battles with cancer.
After six months of very aggressive chemotherapy, he survived multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that can strike anywhere in the body with which he was diagnosed in 2013. He had previously fought off prostate cancer.
“Since then, I’ve been a big advocate for men, especially African-American men, go get your test,” he said, referring to the fact that black people have a higher risk for many types of cancer, including prostate cancer. “The earlier you know, the more assertive you can be about your own health.”
The event kicked off with a special lap walked by survivors and caregivers, led by the Nansemond River High School marching band.
Karen Sproul and Ruby Evans, both wearing survivor sashes, started the lap as strangers but ended it walking and talking as if they were old friends.
“This is sisterhood,” Evans said.
Tayloe Brooks, the luminaria chair, said she had heard a lot of positive comments about the new location at Nansemond River High School.
“Having it in a smaller location makes it more personal,” she said. “You’re able to talk to more people.”