05/31/09 — Flickers of Hope: Thousands defy rain at annual Relay for Life

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Flickers of Hope: Thousands defy rain at annual Relay for Life

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 31, 2009 12:23 AM

Moments after darkness fell on Wayne Community College, Christian Howell brought tears to his grandmother's eyes.

Maybe it was the way the candle burning in his hand lit up his face as he crouched down over and over to share its flame with each of the luminarias bearing the name of his grandfather, Timothy.

Maybe she was thinking about her own battle with cancer -- one that, 30 years ago, made her question whether she would live to see her daughter, Jill, grow to be a parent.

Either way, by the time that 3-year-old boy had lit the last of the 62 candles forming one of the hearts along the Relay for Life track, Jettye Suggs broke down.

"When I was diagnosed ... I prayed for God to let me live long enough to see that someone else would take care of (my children)," she said, looking down at Christian. "And now, I have grandchildren. I feel like I'm a miracle -- like I've been blessed."

More than 6,000 luminarias bearing the message, "Every candle has a name," were arranged along the college parking lot turned track Friday evening.

Nearly 20 of them ran up a ladder decked out in pink and purple streamers, balloons and paper bells.

It was a tribute to Lola Mae Capps and her late husband, Emmett.

"Mama's surviving," said Carol Futrell, her daughter. "Still mean as ever."

The two shared a smile.

But they can still remember their first Relay -- when much different emotions took hold as Mrs. Capps walked among other survivors after her battle with colon cancer.

"When I saw her walk for the first time, I couldn't do anything but cry," Mrs. Futrell said. "I can't even describe it. I just cried and cried."

Jacob Whitley knows the feeling.

He has shed "many a tear" along that track over the years.

"I've been coming out since 2003," he said, looking down at one of the few luminarias not distorted by the heavy rains that fell on and off for most of the evening. "She's the reason."

Heather Pope was the name on that bag.

"She shined just as bright as that flame," Whitley said. "She was my best friend and now she's gone."

So is Mary Hill.

But her sister, Samantha, wouldn't let herself grieve.

"Relay is about remembering what we once had, and I believe that memories never die," Ms. Hill said. "So I know she is here tonight -- through me and all the other people she loved so well."

Timothy Howell wasn't there either.

He didn't get to see his grandson lighting those candles in his honor.

He was in the hospital battling lung cancer -- a struggle Christian is not yet old enough to understand.

But that little boy evoked more tears from those around him as he stared into each flame glowing in his grandfather's name.

"It's been an emotional week for all of us," Jill said, putting a hand on her mother's back.

"I feel like I'm fine," Mrs. Suggs replied, wiping away a tear before looking across the track. "It's these others who need our prayers."