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Walking The Night Away To Fight Cancer At FWB Relay For Life

This year’s Relay For Life event kicked off as the Choctaw High School Style Marchers drum line played, and participants clapped and cheered as dozens of cancer survivors and caregivers took to the track for their first laps.

This year’s theme was “Relay Around The World - Crossing Borders to Cross Out Cancer.” With that in mind, each team wore costumes and decorated their tent in their country’s colors. They also provided food, drinks, t-shirts and gifts to sell to raise money.

Throughout the event there was plenty of entertainment from a scavenger hunt to themed laps, featuring Toga and African Safari. But, there’s also significance to certain details, such as the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. timeframe.

Joe Capelotti, the Interim Event Chair for the FWB Relay for Life, says the event spans a 12 hour period because it is meant to simulate a cancer patient’s journey and educate those not familiar with the struggles they face," We start in the light of day, just before a cancer patient is told that they have cancer. And we go into those dark hours, middle of the night and cancer patient, that’s what they’re doing, they’re going through those struggles through the evening and then as we progress through, you know you’re getting near three or four o’clock in the morning and going, I don’t know that I can make this. That’s what a cancer patient is doing."

One of the most touching parts of the event begins as night falls, the Luminaria ceremony. Lining the track are white paper bags lighted by glow sticks with names, stories and struggles written on them. These names honor those that have survived cancer and are in memory of those that have not.

Another emotional moment came as the youngest Cancer survivor at this year’s event took to the track. Charlotte Goodman, only four years old was celebrating her very first Relay for Life after battling leukemia since before she was two. Charlotte’s mother, April Goodman, said the road to get there was heartbreaking but to see the community rally together at the event was moving and she was overcome by the support, "There’s not really words, it’s been very emotional, it’s hard to describe. To see everyone come together and how many survivors there are in just the local area because there’s events everywhere"

The state of Florida ranks in the top ten in fundraising efforts in the nation, and the city of FWB ranks ninth in the state of Florida. Shelly Miller, a Relay for Life steering committee member and cancer survivor says that early detection is the key and funds raised during the event are used for programs that provide just that, "The American Cancer society has been involved in nearly every breakthrough in cancer research. We funded 47 different noble prize winners. Tamoxifin is one of them, the mammogram is another one, the colon cancer screening is another one. So whether you’re male for female, old or young, you’ve all benefited from some services somewhere."

Community support from companies like Crane Aerospace and Electronics in FWB, who was this year’s chief fundraiser help make a difference. Michelle Pilgrim, who works for the company says the staff votes on which non-profits to help in the community each year and Relay for Life is always at the top, " I believe the numbers are one out of every three people is impacted by cancer and I think that’s why people really want to support the fight for cancer because so many people are impacted by it."

Throughout the night, survivors share their experience and celebrate what they’ve overcome, inspiring those around them to take action and providing hope for those still on the journey. Again, Joe Capelotti, " And now we’re coming to the end of Relay, the light coming up, it’s becoming day light, that’s what a cancer patient sees, the light at the end of the tunnel, as they’re coming out and hopefully going through remission and beating the system. That’s what Relay is about, and that’s why we do it."

Relay for Life events in Florida and Alabama continue for several months to come. This also includes Bark for Life, a canine event to fight cancer, like the one on Saturday, May 31 in Destin. For more information on a Relay event near you, or to make a donation to help in the fight against cancer go to www.relayforlife.org.