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Purple people cancer beaters turn out

Three-year-old Ayden Watts is carried by his grandfather, Dave Bockman, during the survivor’s lap for Friday’s Relay for Life at North Whidbey Middle School. Watts is a neural blastoma survivor.   - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Three-year-old Ayden Watts is carried by his grandfather, Dave Bockman, during the survivor’s lap for Friday’s Relay for Life at North Whidbey Middle School. Watts is a neural blastoma survivor.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

More than 100 teams participated in the overnight Relay for Life Friday to celebrate cancer survivors, raise money for research and to mourn those who were lost too early.

This year’s event committee raised more than $147,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Two-time cancer survivor Charlona Sawyer delivered a tearful opening speech on a stage near the North Whidbey Middle School track.

She recognized the more than 300 survivors dressed in purple T-shirts who came to walk.

“I’m sorry,” she said, after taking a moment to compose herself. “There’s just so many purple. Congratulations to all of you.”

All age ranges were represented during the survivors’ lap, from a 96-year-old eight-time cancer survivor to 3-year-old Ayden Watts who survived neural blastoma.

Near the front of the crowd was Wal-Mart employee Rosie Lamson, a breast cancer survivor who does her own fundraising for the event each year.

“I’m blessed because I have good insurance,” Lamson said. “But others who are diagnosed have much worse problems.”

Lamson rolls her own lumpia, a pastry similar to a spring roll, and sells them at her workplace. She sets a goal each year and managed to earn $300 for the relay.

Team chair Karla Sharkey said eight youth teams registered for this year’s event, which is a higher number than average.

Three teams signed up from North Whidbey Middle School to walk in honor of Sydney Boyer, a local 11-year-old girl who was diagnosed with bone cancer. And for their second year, Midway High School students camped out on the track with “Team Dragonites,” a Medieval themed group.

Friday evening, the relay took on a more somber tone during the Luminaria ceremony, at which time some of the most important people at Relay for Life take part only in spirit.

Paper bags filled with sand, each holding a burning candle, were laid out along the track as survivors and community members walked. Each bag had the name of a loved one lost to the disease.

Breast cancer survivor Leona Brannan, who was diagnosed in 1995, said that cancer can touch anyone.

“There was no history of cancer in my family and it just crept up. You can do everything right too,” Brannan said.

But she says her family helped her through the worst of it. After her radiation treatment, there were small tattoo markings on her chest, which help radiation therapists pinpoint the area needing treatment. On the drive back from the hospital her husband said, “I don’t know if you can come home.”

“I said ‘What? What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘We told our kids that if they ever get a tattoo they can’t come home,’” Brannan said. “You have to keep the humor.”

Many of the event’s attendees were keeping in high spirits with colorful costumes, for the event theme “Back to the Future.” The event committee secured a Delorean (which became a time machine in the “Back to the Future” trilogy) for the track entrance.

Sharkey said that after the weekend, the committee is close to their goal of $197,000, which they have until Aug. 31 to raise.

About 40 teams have already registered for next year.

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