By Audrey Spencer
Killeen Daily Herald
Cancer survivors, family members and friends gathered at Shoemaker High School Friday evening to raise money.
A party atmosphere greeted walkers at the Killeen-Harker Heights-Fort Hood Relay for Life as teams grilled hot dogs and dished up meals while a DJ played music to appeal to every generation present.
Helna Faith Dunn, a "well-seasoned" survivor of multiple cancers, was at her sixth Relay with her children and grandchildren.
"I was really healthy, a dance instructor, and I had to stop doing everything," she said of being diagnosed with vaginal, cervical and uterine cancer in 2005. "Chemo takes your whole life, but I had excellent family support."
Both of Dunn's parents also had cancer. Her mother died in 2001, but her father survived his illness.
"I'm grateful for my family," she said. "Without their support, you go down."
The relay kicked off at 7 p.m. with the survivor's lap around the Shoemaker track, followed by the caregiver's lap.
Many participants took part in memory of family members and friends who lost their battles with cancer.
Miranda Adarme lost her mother-in-law and a friend last year and said the experiences made her want to do something.
"My mother-in-law wanted grandkids, and she missed it by 13 months," said Adarme, who is four months pregnant. "I'm out here because I want to encourage people. (My mother-in-law) was afraid to get help."
Friday was Adarme's first Relay for Life experience, and she spent it as co-chair of the Cancer Advocacy Network.
Other participants had a longer running connection to the Relay.
Joyce Hodson, a 12-year participant, said the event is special for two reasons: her work to get it started and to remember her mother, Wilma Waldrop.
"She was strong and never complained," said Hodson of her mother's kidney cancer diagnosis in 2009. "When they found it, it was already Stage 4."
Hodson said doctors told her mother there was no medication to treat the disease, and she lived with it for a full year before her death.
"I walk in memory of her and in honor of those fighting the fight," said Hodson.
Around 400 survivors and 1,400 participants registered, said Brooke Honza, community manager for the event.
"The goal this year is to raise $190,000, and we started tonight with $130,000," she said.
Michael DeHart, a cancer survivor named an American Cancer Society Hero of Hope for 2012, spoke to the crowd about how much of the money raised helps cancer patients in Central Texas.
"You have funded saving over 3,000 lives," he said. "We've bought 1,600 gas cards so patients can get to their treatments and provided 1,500 wigs, hats and turbans, because we all know the effect of chemo."
The relay concluded at 7 this morning.
Contact Audrey Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.