From Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer in blood-forming areas of the body; to Mesothelioma, a cancer found in the lining of the chest or abdomen; to Neuroblastoma, a cancer of nerve cells that affects mostly infants and children; to Wilms Tumor, a malignant cancer found in the kidney that can spread to the lungs, liver, or nearby lymph nodes – cancer strikes all ages, all areas of the body.
Despite the daunting landscape of cancer, great strides have been made. And for Cabot Relay for Life chairperson Deanna Carpenter, it is the promise of greater strides to come that drives fundraisers for the American Cancer Society.
The Cabot Relay for Life will be held Friday May 3 at Cabot Panther Stadium; individual registration is open up to the Relay, Carpenter said. Register online at relayforlife.org, or at the stadium, she said. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will continue all night to about 5 a.m., May 4.
The opening ceremony will include the Survivors’ Lap, reserved to those who have beaten the disease and those still fighting it, Carpenter said.
Speaking about the importance of the Relay for Life, Carpenter said that the Relay has become routine and that the individuals who rely on the hope the Relay gives, and those working to end the disease, are becoming lost from sight, amid the “thousands” of requests for donations.
“I want to give faces to those who have cancer, and those who are fighting it,” Carpenter said.
One of the faces is that of 9-year-old Savannah Hamm of Cabot, one of the growing number of survivors.
Daughter of April and Jason Hamm, “Savvy” as she is best known as, is an active and healthy student at Northside Elementary School, but only a few years ago doctors offered a bleak view of her future.
Mother April Hamm said Savvy was only 18 months old when she was diagnosed with Pleuro-Pulmonary Blastoma, a very rare type of childhood lung cancer. “At the time of her diagnosis she was only the third case Arkansas Children’s hospital had seen,” April wrote in an account of the family’s battle.
“Feb. 22, 2006 was a day that forever changed my family’s life,” April said of the day they learned their daughter had cancer.
Not only was the particular form of cancer rare, but Savvy was given less than a 50-percent chance of surviving. “The doctor’s only gave her a 46-percent chance of survival. I said from the very beginning that my daughter was not a statistic,” April recalled.
Savvy has endured much in her nine years. “She has had over a year of chemotherapy, numerous brain, chest, and bone scans. Over seven surgeries, one of which was to remove a tumor that was around her heart … She is truly a hero in every sense of the word … she fought so hard and won the war when the odds were not in her favor,” April wrote.
This year Savvy celebrated seven years of being cancer-free, April said. “She is a very bright, sassy and fun loving little girl.”
Despite the success of the treatments, cancer remains a specter for the family, April said. “Although it may seem as if her journey with cancer is over we still worry about her future,” she said.
The effects of the high-dose chemotherapy at such a young age are largely unknown, April said. “Will she be able to have a child of her own someday? Will she develop another type of cancer later on in her life?”
“Sometimes the unknowns are almost too much for Jason and I, but for now we just try to live one day at a time and enjoy our sweet and now healthy little girl,” April said.
Carpenter said there are stories like Savvy’s because of the work of the ACS. “Cancer can strike anyone, anywhere, but there are now more people living through it because of research. That is what the Relay supports,” she said.
Not only do the teams raise funds through sponsors, but through selling specialties during the Relay, Carpenter said. Team supporters can come during the relay to encourage their teams, as well as visit other teams’ “campsites,” she said.
The opening ceremony and Survivors Lap, which is reserved to those who are undergoing, or have undergone, cancer treatments, will begin at 6 p.m., Carpenter said.
Teams will have a member on the track throughout the night, except for the Luminaria Ceremony, Carpenter said.
Luminaria, paper bags lighted by a candle, each bearing the name of a victim, or someone struggling against cancer, will encircle the stadium track; others will spell “hope” in the stands.
The stadium lighting is turned off and, with only the light of the luminaria, the names of family members and friends who lost their battle are read aloud, Carpenter said.
Relay events continue all night, Carpenter said. The night will include contests such as Little Miss Relay Sunday dress pageant, Little Mr. Superhero, games and other entertainment, including background music by a DJ. “We will finish up at 5 with awards for individual teams,” Carpenter said. The total fund-raising goal is $15,000.