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Passing the baton of survival

Relay of Life gives those with cancer a gift of a second chance

Relay of Life gives those with cancer a gift of a second chance

February 20, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Maybe it was the feeling that comes with getting a second chance at life.

Maybe it was the very attitude that carried them through to see that second chance.

Or maybe it was simply the joy of being surrounded by a room full of people devoted to celebrating and supporting each other.

Whatever the reason, the colorful decorations, cheery corsages and whimsical balloon animals paled in comparison to the bright spirit of the guests at Tuesday's Cancer Survivor Valentine Reception.

More than 60 local cancer survivors and their guests attended the free event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society's Washington County Relay for Life.

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"The survivors are the heart of Relay," event co-chair Keith Grossnickle said. "This is just our way of saying 'thank you' to the survivors for being there and our way of giving back to them."

This was the second year the organization had hosted the Valentine-themed event, which more than doubled in size since last year, organizers said.

"It's a bit crowded, but that's a good problem to have," said Relay co-chair Tom Sweeney Jr.

Between dinner, desert and a performance by the Carousel Barbershop Quartet, survivors compared stories and shared advice for battling the disease that changed their lives.

"These people are the support and encouragement that keeps you thinking positive," said Jackie Thompson, 67, of Hagerstown.

When Thompson was first diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2005, she said doctors were surprised at her attitude of resolve.

"You can't let it put you down," she said. "You say, 'What is the next step?' It's not the end; it's the beginning."

Thompson and prostate cancer survivor Blanton Croft, 71, of Maugansville, both recommended the support groups, lectures and other services at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown.

"It lets you know they care about your survival," Croft said.

Tina Yates, 51, of Hagerstown, said when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1999, she was told she had only two to four months to live. Instead, it has been eight years.

"I take every day and just be thankful that I'm here," she said.

Sweeney said these are the stories that drive the volunteers to organize massive events like Relay for Life.

"They definitely give you a whole different perspective on things," he said.

Relay for Life is a National event to raise awareness and funding for cancer research and services. The Washington County relay is scheduled for June 20 at 7 p.m.

More information: www.wacorelayforlife.org

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