The football field of Shoemaker High School in Killeen was filled Friday with tents and hundreds of people participating in the annual Relay for Life fundraiser.
Cancer survivors, caregivers and their families came out to the all-night event to walk and unite in celebration of survivors and in remembrance of those who have died from the disease that claims millions of people worldwide each year.
“The relay is a great way for participants and our local community to get together and honor survivors, commemorate loved ones lost and also to raise awareness,” said Amanda Charbonneau, community manager for the American Cancer Society.
Sandra Shepherd, a breast cancer survivor who has participated in the relay for the last 13 years, said it symbolizes encouragement and hope.
“People think that because they hear the word cancer that it’s the end of the world, but it’s not. We’re letting people know that it’s OK to say, ‘I have cancer’ and that we’re here to help them celebrate more birthdays,” she said.
The purpose of Relay for Life is to encourage prevention by spreading awareness, said John Robertson, vice president of Star Group Veterans Helping Veterans.
“People need to recognize the fact that cancer is a disease and that it’s going to take the effort of everybody to wipe it out. The more you learn about the disease, the more you are prone to get involved, and that’s what this event does.”
The smell of barbecue grills filled the air as children tossed footballs, played soccer and danced to an assortment of music.
Lumineria lanterns lined the track, each personalized to represent those lost and still battling the disease.
Some participants began walking the track before the opening ceremony, including Edward Saxton, who is married to a two-year cancer survivor. “My wife is a survivor, and we’ve been coming here for four years. This relay helped us get through.”
Stories of courage and never-ending resilience were in abundance.
Mary Hayashida said she fought her way through five separate diagnoses, including Hodgkin’s disease and breast cancer, saying, “I had to have hope even when people told me there was no hope.”
As of Friday, the Killeen-area relay raised more than $90,000, nearly half of its $200,000 goal, with Saegert Elementary’s Stallions as the top-earning team with more than $6,000.
“We helped raise this money to support kids and their families so they can get through it and make their lives a little bit better,” said Saegert representative Colleen Mathias.
Hasyashida said this event “lets people know they’re not alone and at times when you feel like you can’t walk, there are always others there to lift you. There’s such camaraderie and you are never, ever alone.”