Friends, family members and acquaintances all joined hands for one common cause in Upshur County Friday - to raise awareness of the many ways in which local lives have been affected by cancer.
In doing so, they honored and remembered those who have been lost to cancer - and celebrated those who have survived it. Twenty-nine teams, all surrounded by their relay family at the 16th annual Upshur County Relay For Life theme - a RELAYtion Celebration - circled the Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School track in a parade of symbolism, survivorship, awareness and honor.
"Being a cancer survivor myself, it is my belief that anybody should support Relay For Life," American Legion Post 7 Commander Les Shreve said. "People don't realize how many survivors there are."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
A family that has been touched by cancer walks in memory of those lost and in celebration of those who survive at Friday’s Relay For Life event at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School. From left are Michael Thompson, with a memorial photo of his late wife, Shirley Thompson, Edna Thompson, a cancer survivor, and Berta Thompson, with a memorial photo of her late husband, Roger Thompson.
Shreve said he wanted to thank all the caregivers who have supported a survivor.
Survivors led the first lap around the track. Their caregivers joined them in the second lap, and the growing group was soon after followed by all 29 participating teams. Several teams sold items and food during the event to continue raising funds to find a cure or support families that have been touched by cancer.
"That's the whole purpose of the Lions, to serve the community," Tennerton Lions Club President John Simons said.
"This is one aspect of how we do it."
For many survivors and their families, Relay For Life is about more than just raising money. It's about raising support.
"It's to make people more aware that it doesn't have to be a debilitating disease. There's all kinds of cancer," Sandra Phillips, a skin cancer survivor, Tennerton Lions Club member and the leader of Leo's Club Lions said. "(Survivors) don't have to be ashamed that you have cancer. You can get support from all kinds of people. You make it through with God."
Phillips said she also thinks Relay For Life is important because "It gets you out."
"You can't just sit," she said, "because then the depression and the bad thoughts come out."
One cancer survivor, Rev. Ralph Miller, who spoke at opening ceremonies, said that he gives God thanks that he's still here.
"I realize that having a God in my life, a positive attitude and also the faith to believe that if for some reason I don't get through it, I'm a winner either way it goes," Miller said. "Each year that we make it through to another one, we should be very thankful. Let each and every survivor know there's hope."
"Thank God for the people that are still trying (to find a cure) and raising the funds, getting out and raising their voice - being heard," he continued. "Let those folks that have cancer know that there's someone that has their back."
The planning committee for this year's Relay for Life includes Bobby Stell, Carol Bowman, Clay Persinger, Amanda Hayes, Darlene Pillz, Crystal Shaw, Donna Woody, Gloria Shaffer, Heather Ogden, Jewel Fisher, Karen Persinger, Kristin Rowland, Linda Wolfe, Michael Alkire, Shannon Whited and Sue Cunningham.