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Finding joy in the journey

Poor weather forced the Lonoke Relay for Life to retreat to the Community Center for an indoor event, but the crowd remained spirited and large. The Lonoke High School Junior ROTC Color Guard helped open the night-long event Friday evening. (Photo by Ed Galucki)Buy Photo
Poor weather forced the Lonoke Relay for Life to retreat to the Community Center for an indoor event, but the crowd remained spirited and large. The Lonoke High School Junior ROTC Color Guard helped open the night-long event Friday evening. (Photo by Ed Galucki)
The traditional Survivors Lap marked the beginning of the Lonoke area Relay for Life, a national event that has become the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The Community Center walking track stayed busy all night when a poor weather forecast left doubt for conditions at James B. Abraham Stadium at the high school.Buy Photo
The traditional Survivors Lap marked the beginning of the Lonoke area Relay for Life, a national event that has become the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The Community Center walking track stayed busy all night when a poor weather forecast left doubt for conditions at James B. Abraham Stadium at the high school.

Forecasts of poor weather for the weekend were enough for organizers to move the 2013 Lonoke area Relay for Life to move the event indoors to the Lonoke Community Center. But the move did not dampen the spirit of the participants, with 13 teams and more than 100 individuals registered for the night-long event, more than 50 remained until the 6 a.m. finish.

“This doesn’t count all the people who were there and did not register,” organizer Zan Jackson said. This was the 13th year for the Lonoke Relay for Life; teams and walkers raised more than $16,000, she said.

The Relay for Life is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and is held nationwide in events such as the Lonoke Relay. Proceeds are used by ACS to fund cancer research, and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers.

Survivor Jada Huff acted as master of ceremonies for the Lonoke Relay.

The opening of the Lonoke Relay was observed with the posting of the colors by the Lonoke High School Junior ROTC color guard, with a patriotic medley played on saxophone by James Gosney.

Relay committee chair Beth Wright made the opening remarks, welcoming the large number of participants. “Thank you for coming, I know everyone has many opportunities to do other things, so we are especially thankful for you coming to Relay,” she said.

The following 12 hours would symbolize a day in the life of a cancer survivor, Wright said. “It is a disease that never sleeps,” she said.

Wright recounted the 1985 personal fundraiser by Dr. Gordy Platt, a Seattle doctor and cancer survivor. Platt collected donations based on running and walking for 24 hours; he collected $27,000, and became the founder of the Relay for Life, Wright said.

Survivor Chris James told of his own continuing battle with cancer; from the discovery of his disease, to finding that “God has given me the peace that passes all understanding.”

“It’s OK. We are going to fight this, one day, one step at a time,” he recounted telling his wife, Karen.

He recalled that he had made plans to have a colonoscopy done at the recommended age of 50 years old. However, when his was done, it was already too late. “My advice to others is don’t wait,” James said.

Diagnosed with colon cancer, it was found to have spread to his liver and lungs, he recalled.

His first surgery was done in January 2012, and the support of close friends was crucial, James said. Having 55 friends waiting with him while he awaited surgery “Was quite an honor for me,” he said.

The battle is still being waged, James said. At this point, he has received treatments for about 15 months, about 65 treatments, and goes for another each Wednesday, he said.

A scan made just before Valentine’s Day showed the first reduction in the tumors, James said.

But there is new hope each time an advance is made in cancer treatment, James said. There are new drugs that have become available since he began treatments.

But there is “A joy in every journey,” James said. “We have told everybody that this has been a ‘may be’ journey for us.

“It may be a journey of faith. It may be a journey of friends and family… It is truly a peace that you don’t worry about tomorrow… Finding joy in the journey is like finding faith through peace. When you have got that peace, you have the joy,” James said.

Survivors Lori Cole and Jackson gave a Survivor Medal to each of the 32 survivors who came to the Relay. The survivors ranged from fourth-graders to senior adults.

Special recognition was given to survivor Don Cook and his wife, Wanda, who celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary at the Relay.

An added special event during the evening was a 6.2-mile run by physical therapist Justin VanLandingham as a special tribute to his mother, who died June 2, 1996, from melanoma. The distance marked the date 6/2/96 of her death.

VanLandingham started his run from the stage, and finished in 45 minutes.

Following the recognitions, the survivors made the traditional Survivors Lap.

Hundreds of luminaries encircled the walking track; each of the lights was in honor or the memory of someone who had battled cancer. Each name was announced during the ceremony, held at 9 p.m.

Also, the winners of the Paint the Town Purple competition were announced during the opening ceremony. The winners were chosen by a panel of judges made up of students from Lonoke Exceptional School. First place winner was Emily’s Flowers and Gifts; second place - Li’l Hair Hut; third place - Lonoke Physical Therapy.

The top fundraising teams were: first - First State Bank; second - Lonoke Physical Therapy Mobilizers; third - Palm Street Church of Christ.

A birthday cake competition was held to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Cancer Society. Winners were: first - The White Family and Friends; second - Lonoke Physical Therapy Mobilizers; third - Cruising For a Cure-Lonoke Nursing Home and Rehabilitation.

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