05/23/10 — Teams shake, rattle and Relay

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Teams shake, rattle and Relay

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 23, 2010 1:50 AM

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Randy Grimmer, left, gets soaked at the Daniel's Memorial United Methodist Church booth -- where the theme was "Make Cancer Walk the Plank" -- after having a water balloon popped on his head when Ronnie Brock, 9, hit the target with the help of Karen Rains.

Max Primas and his brother, Miles, were not just walking for a cure Friday night at the Wayne County Relay for Life.

As their neon green T-shirts said, they were "Walkin' for Papa."

Max, 8, and Miles, 5, lost their grandfather, Ken Kramer, to cancer last August. But when their mother, Leslie Primas, penned a special memorial message to her father on a giant birthday card, she was thinking only of how proud he would be of his family.

"I thought I was going to be sad, but I feel at peace. Especially the survivor lap, it made me feel good that so many people are able to beat it, even though he wasn't able to. I just feel at peace out here. It's comforting almost, to see so many people," she said.

Thousands of people from Wayne County and beyond turned out this weekend to help in the fight against cancer by raising money for the American Cancer Society. The 140 teams sold food, homemade items, shirts and luminarias as well as sending walkers to circle the track at Wayne Community College.

The Primas family walked with the Eastern Wayne Elementary Relay team, and the two boys raised $100 for cancer research. After losing their loved one to cancer, the family decided they were going to do everything they could to help find a cure, so others would not have to endure the same loss.

"We're going to keep his memory alive," Mrs. Primas said.

Many members of the Grantham Fire and Rescue Relay team were walking in memory of a lost loved one or to honor friends and family who won their cancer battle.

Tyler Mills, 11, and his sister, Kaylie Mills, 10, came out to Relay for the first time this year to cheer on their grandmother, a breast cancer survivor.

"I just came out here to support her. I just thought I could help everyone else survive just like her," Tyler said.

Teammate Kayla Thornton, 13, took her grandfather's brush with cancer as inspiration to help others.

"My grandpa had cancer and he was sick, and I didn't want people to have to go through what I went through with my grandpa," she said.

The Grantham team had more than 50 members, most of them students at Grantham School. Southern Wayne High School, Grantham Grange, Eureka Christian Church and Selah Christian Church were among the team's sponsors this year. Each donated at least $300 to the effort.

"Our team does well every year, and it's always a good group of students. Every year I have more and more kids that want to be involved. And this year, we actually have a Relay club that meets once a month," organizer Sue Hill said.

Team member Dekevious Bass, 12, raised more than $200 by working with his church, the First Congregation United Church of Christ. His uncle passed away from cancer, and raising money for cancer research has helped to honor his memory, he said.

The Grantham booth displayed signs with the names of survivors and those who passed away from cancer with connections to the community. A former coach, a student, the parent of a staff member and many others touched by cancer were just a few of the reasons the team works hard every year to support Relay for Life.

Former Grantham School teacher Melissa Jeffrey's quiet presence at Relay for Life spoke volumes in honor of her father, who lost his voice, and then his life, to the disease.

"A few years ago, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He made it through that, and never got his voice back. And he went through hyperbaric treatments, and his voice still never returned, and it just kind of made it worse," Ms. Jeffrey said.

Her father developed pneumonia last year and ended up in the hospital, where doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his lungs and his liver. He passed away after months of fighting.

Joining the Relay effort seemed more important than ever for Ms. Jeffrey. So much so, that she used some of the money donated toward her father's memorial to help sponsor the Grantham Fire and Rescue Relay team.

"This year it definitely means a lot. Knowing that he fought, and knowing that there's so many survivors out there that we know can beat it," she said.

Jackye Cushing became involved with Relay for Life when her sister was diagnosed with cancer. Her sister lost her battle, but Mrs. Cushing continues to carry on the fight in her memory by working with Relay for Life through the Brodgen Methodist Church team.

"We had talked about, my sister and I had talked about having a tent. It started out with our (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) group in Wayne County and ended up with our church group," she said.

This year, the team's booth proudly displayed a large sign proclaiming "Sylvia Creel, this one's for you." Ms. Creel, who has been very involved with Relay for many years, fell victim to cancer and is still battling the disease. The sign is a way of showing support to one of their own, Ms. Cushing said.

"She's been to every one for years, and this is the first one she's not been able to make it," she said.

Sharon Richardson of St. Mark's Disciples of St. Mark Church started working with Relay for Life after walking hand-in-hand with a dear friend following her diagnosis.

"I do it because I have seen, I've been with someone actually being diagnosed with cancer. It was one of my girlfriends, and I went through it with her as far as the finding out, the surgery, the chemo, the losing of the hair, and it was just being there as a caregiver, just that support. She's been cancer-free for seven years," Mrs. Richardson said.

The church group has been raising money for Relay for Life for more than a dozen years, and this year raised more than $6,000 before the event even started. This year, St. Mark's Disciples were walking to honor their former Relay for Life team captain, Florence White, who survived breast cancer but later died in a car accident.

The church has been so active because so many of the members have been touched by cancer, either fighting it themselves or helping a relative through the frightening experience.

"In my church, we have a lot of people that have had cancer, that are living with cancer, and we just want to give them support and at the same time help to raise money for the research and the cure for cancer," Mrs. Richardson said.

Cancer "walked the plank" at the Daniels Memorial United Methodist Church team's pirate-themed booth. Youngsters took turns throwing beanbags at a dunk-tank style bulls-eye, trying to break a water balloon and soak their friends.

The simple way of raising money is something the church team has tried before and it proved popular this year, raising about $1,000, organizer Gretchen Reed said.

"We discovered three years ago (when) we have kids' games, that it's fun for us, it's fun for the kids, and we make money," she said.

The team rallied together to celebrate the survivors and honor those who passed away from cancer with a special banner. On one side of the flag, the Death Defiers smiled from under scraps of colorful bandanas and gleaming pirate's gold. On the opposite side, the Dearly Departed Mateys' halos glittered around an overflowing treasure chest. The group's flag would later go on to win the annual competition.

"We're honoring them so we don't forget," Mrs. Reed said.

Banner artist Temi Wright's own name was listed with the other Death Defiers, but like many others, she was participating in Relay for Life in honor of a loved one. She lost her mother to cancer four years ago, and started helping with the fundraiser in 2007. She was diagnosed with carcinoma in November 2009, setting off painful and frightening reminders of her mother's battle.

Learning she had cancer after losing her mother to the disease "scared the pudding out of me," Mrs. Wright said.

It took surgery to remove the carcinoma, but now her prognosis is good. And the scars are the least of her worries.

"I have a chunk out of my back, but I don't care what I look like. Just get rid of it," she said.

The disease touches everyone's life, regardless of who they are, and the community's strong response to the need for research funding is touching, she said.

"It is so many different people, from so many walks of life, different socio-economic, cultural, ethnic ... it doesn't matter what color you are, what part of town you live in. We're all pulling for the same thing," she said. "I've got so many words going through my head. Love, love is one. Camaraderie, because we all have it in common."

There was a nautical theme at Garris Chapel United Methodist's booth as well.

Lynn Crumpler, chairman of Garris Chapel Lifesavers "On Deck For a Cure" team said Relay for Life is one of the outreach missions at the church.

Showing up for the Relay events is only part of the mission at the church.

Members celebrate the survivors and remember those who have died from cancer with a slide show during their service a week before Relay every year.

"A lot people in church have been affected by cancer, their family and their friends," Ms. Crumpler said. "And that slideshow is our reason to Relay."

Personally, Ms. Crumpler said her life has been affected by cancer, several times, first with the death of her grandfather, Snook Vinson, then by the death of her two uncles, both of her father's brothers, Max Smith and Larry Smith.

"And I've been doing Relay ever since," she said.

The church's booth was shaped like a cruise ship, the USS Lifesaver -- and the team's creative efforts managed to earn them one of the prizes for best campsite this year.

It has been 34 years since Shirley Perry was told she had cancer, but she still recalls how devastated she felt.

"But I am still kicking and it is good to be here," said Ms. Perry as she worked at the Woods Chapel Free Will Baptist Church Relay for Life booth Friday evening. "I am so glad to be old, I don't know what to do. I am 73."

She said part of the fun of the evening was knowing that so many cared so much for people who were facing the same battle she did.

"It is just amazing. I can't even describe how it feels. It is just a beautiful feeling to know that this many people are pulling together for the same purpose," she said. "It is just beautiful. I love it."

Staff writers Steve Herring and Laura Collins contributed to this report.