By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
Survivors, caregivers, families and friends gathered at the Killeen Community Center Friday night to celebrate the fight against cancer.
More than 150 people were invited to the Relay For Life Survivors Dinner, said Judi Downey, the survivors chairperson for the Killeen-Fort Hood-Harker Heights chapter.
"It's a chance to honor those people who have battled cancer, and to remember those who are no longer here to celebrate with us," said Downey.
Each year, people across the nation raise awareness and money for cancer research. Downey said the chapter's goal this year is to raise $1 million.
"The theme this year is 'Why We Relay'," said Misty Bryd, the chapter's relay chairperson. "We are here to relay for the survivors and it is a privilege."
The dinner featured food, conversation, door prizes and two guest speakers.
Mary Hayashida, a five-time cancer survivor, shared her story, which began when she was first diagnosed in 1975 and continued with various diagnoses though 2006.
"Most of us in here belong to a club we wish we didn't belong to," Hayashida told guests. "But the things that once frightened us end up being blessings."
Hayashida, a mother of five, said she learned to take things day-by-day and not give into despair and praised the strides made in the treatment of cancer.
"We are now finding that the wins are better than the losses," Hayashida said. "Supporting Relay for Life gives us hope."
Members of the chapter also held a luminaria service, which used glow-sticks and candles placed in paper bags to honor those with cancer, survivors and those whose lives cancer claimed.
The luminaria held special meaning to Killeen resident Michael DeHart, another cancer survivor who spoke at the dinner.
DeHart described seeing one of the glowing luminaria dedicated in his name by his wife at a Relay for Life event in 2007.
"They were all lined up and down the track in both directions. ... I looked down at my feet and saw my name. It was very powerful," he said. "That light represents hope, and that hope comes from the people sitting next to you in this room."
DeHart was one of two people chosen this year by Relay for Life as a "Hero for Hope" for the organization's 2012 campaign in South and Central Texas. He will tour much of the state, giving more than 100 speeches at similar events.
"I'm standing here because people like you helped save my life," he said. "Relay for Life helped save my life."
This year's relay starts at 7 p.m. May 4 at Shoemaker High School.
Learn how to help Relay for Life at www.relayforlife.org.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.