05/20/11 — They are ready to Relay

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They are ready to Relay

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on May 20, 2011 1:46 PM

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Tony Britt and Jennifer Mooring set up the Purtty Team tent site at Relay for Life. The event begins at 6 p.m. today at Wayne Community College.

After months of preparation, members of Relay for Life teams started setting up tents and grills early today at Wayne Community College, ready for a night of celebrating and remembering.

The annual event starts this evening with a survivors walk and ends Saturday at midday.

Relay co-chairman Brenda Robinson said most of the people out this morning were early birds trying to set up before the crowds started pouring in later in the day.

"It's a good day for it," Ms. Robinson said, looking up at the clear blue sky. "We're going to have nice weather."

Team members setting up around the field said they were glad for the good weather since, in recent years, Relay weekend has been accompanied by rain showers.

Ms. Robinson added that she hopes this year's event will break one record -- in the past the county's teams have raised more than a half a million dollars for cancer research.

C.B. Mitchell, one of the leaders of Pine Forest United Methodist Church's team, said he would be setting up with his team later in the morning, but he hopes to be one of the top fundraisers tonight.

Pine Forest has one of the largest teams in Wayne County and usually rakes in a generous portion of money for cancer research.

Mitchell said Relay will be different for him this year without his wife, Carol, by his side. She lost her battle with cancer in November, just a few days after the couple's 53rd wedding anniversary.

"It's going to be tearful for me," Mitchell said. But he added that he knows his wife is better off.

"She was so sick, but she put on a brave face," he said. "She was good at that."

His wife used to lead the church's Relay team every year, but since she passed away, Mitchell has had to fill her shoes with the help of other church members.

Mitchell said his wife has inspired him to pick up the fight where she left off.

"I was asleep and I heard her say, 'You've got to do Relay. You've got to do it,'" he said. "It was so real."

Mitchell said if he is going to keep fighting cancer, Relay for Life is the way to do it.

"I just believe in research," he said. "If it weren't for chemo and research, there'd be a lot more dead. If not for research, Ms. Carol wouldn't have lived an extra four years."

Cancer research is one of the most important parts of the event, and every penny helps, Mrs. Robinson said.

"I don't feel like we can do enough," Ms. Robinson said.

And while the Relay for Life will be a time to remember and grieve for Mitchell, for others it will be a time to celebrate those who have survived their struggles with cancer.

Renee Bryan said she didn't know if her son, Cooper, would celebrate another birthday when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor when he was 4. Now, four years later, she said he is ready to take another survivors' lap -- just a couple weeks after celebrating his eighth birthday.

Although Cooper has improved, Mrs. Bryan said having a child who is battling cancer has made the Relay much more real to her than before.

"It became even more personal," she said. "It was nothing that my immediate family or anybody had issues with or anything before."

Having a loved one battle cancer makes Relay teams fight that much harder to find a cure, Mrs. Bryan said.

"All of our team members, they all and we all participate in memory of and in honor of Cooper and other family members that have survived," she said. "All of our team members have also had a direct experience with their own family members."

Mrs. Bryan, her husband and Cooper are all part of Super Cooper's Troopers, made up of several community members who have dealt with cancer in their own ways and rallied behind the boy who fought it and won.

Mrs. Bryan said Cooper would not be where he is today without the community's love and compassion. She said she was awestruck at people's willingness to help.

"I don't even know how to put it into words," she said. "I guess because it's a child. Putting these little faces out there, it kind of musters up energy that maybe people didn't know they had before.

"Children are supposed to catch butterflies and catch baseballs, not worry about MRI machines and blood testing. No child should have to endure what Cooper endured."

And part of the joy of Relay is working to make sure nobody, child or adult, has to endure the pain of cancer ever again, Ms. Robinson said.

"It's medicinal. It helps you to know you're stopping someone from going through what your loved one went through," she said.

Ms. Robinson said she has lost several members of her family to cancer. Nothing helps ease her pain like the Relay for Life, she said.

Relay is not just about celebrating or mourning, it's about a powerful mix of emotions and the knowledge that people have to keep fighting, she said.

Mitchell said he will get through Relay with Carol by his side.

"She'll be there," he said. "She would tell everybody, 'Y'all go walk around the track.'"