By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Margo Coster considers her "family" to be more than 1,400 relatives strong and growing.
Approximately 1,400 participants, 263 cancer survivors and 115 teams gathered for the Greater Killeen/Fort Hood American Cancer Society Relay for Life at Shoemaker High School.
The all-night event ran from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and featured food, dance, music and competitions, all with the goal of supporting cancer survivors and the American Cancer Society.
Coster, a four-year breast cancer survivor and survivor chair for the event, said her experiences at the Relay for Life have brought her a "kinship" among other cancer survivors and those affected by the disease.
"It's unbelievable when you say you have cancer," Coster said, recalling the support she got from family, friends and co-workers who came at all hours to be at her bedside at night.
"You don't meet a stranger after you've had cancer. Your life changes," Coster said.
Patty Watts, a former event chair, was inspired to become involved in the event after her own battle with cancer.
Watts was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been a survivor for 12 years. Watts said the event's opening ceremony, a lap along the Shoemaker track for all the cancer survivors, grabs her emotions when she watches everybody applaud her and the other survivors.
"It makes you feel real special," Watts said.
However, Watts believes the real applause belongs to the people who attend and donate because their contributions not only help people beat cancer, but also help the American Cancer Society research the disease.
Watts said cancer touches everyone in some way, whether it be through a friend, a co-worker or a family member and Relay for Life reminds everyone that they are not alone.
Watts endured a grueling year of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation before her cancer was eradicated. However, it was the support system of family, friends and God that she believes helped her conquer the day-to-day struggle of living with cancer.
"I just realized it was bigger than me. It was something I couldn't fight alone, so I turned myself over to God," Watts said. "I felt like I could take it one day at a time. It's too overwhelming otherwise."
Watts also credited her husband's support through continuous doctor's appointments with her success.
"He held my hand the whole time. He made me feel special," she said.
If 2008 is any indication, then Relay for Life in the Killeen area is growing. The 2008 event far surpassed 2007 totals for money donated, participants and teams said event chairwoman Blanca Vazquez.
The event had raised $190,000 as of 3 p.m. Friday, surpassing last year's total of $160,000, Vazquez said.
This year's theme was "Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back," Vazquez said.
A renewed support from Fort Hood, especially through 18 teams at Darnall hospital, drove this year's growth, Vazquez said.
The continued success and growth of events such as Relay for Life give Watts optimism that the mysteries surrounding cancer will be solved.
"We don't know what causes it, but we do know we're on the road to curing it," Watts said.
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.