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Cancer survivors and their supporters join Relay for Life

June 19, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Some people strolled through the survivors lap Friday at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. Some struggled.

Their pace varied, but their personal journeys through cancer gave them much in common.

They smiled about the successful battles and got choked up over the losses they have known.

This is the 25th year of Relay For Life, a national overnight event for raising money and bonding. It was commemorated locally in Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park.

"It's a lot of emotion," said Bernard Keating, who lives near Hagerstown.

Keating and his wife, Phyllis, wore purple "Survivor" shirts.

Bernard Keating beat prostate cancer. Phyllis Keating started fighting skin cancer about 10 years ago; her most recent round was a few months ago.

The Keatings, who will have been married 50 years in December, said their daughter Sharon died five years ago of breast cancer. Another daughter has colon cancer.

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Phyllis lost a sister to colon cancer. Bernard's parents died of cancer.

"It's been rough," Phyllis Keating said.

The park was crammed with people, tents and activities. The relay started Friday evening and was expected to end Saturday morning.

The schedule called for a whipped cream eating contest for children, live music, a trivia contest and silent auctions.

Walking was a mainstay. After cancer survivors took the first lap, many others joined in.

About 25 girls from Hagerstown's Cheer Universe team called out "we are proud!" to each group passing by.

Rick Skinner said theme laps, such as walking in pajamas, keep the event fun and lively, even through the morning's wee hours.

He was part of Lee's Team, which included his wife, son, daughter-in-law, daughter and two granddaughters. The team was named for Skinner's mother, Lee Auchincloss, who died of lung cancer on March 11, 2008.

Relay teams were encouraged to set up booths and campsites with a board game theme. Lee's Team chose Candy Land.

A Pangborn Elementary School team celebrated raising more than $8,000 in school.

Assistant Principal Beth Allshouse said students were asked to contribute loose change. Coins quickly added up to about $2,000.

Kindergarten teacher Lisa Idol said her class of 19 children collected more than $160 in one week. "I was shocked," she said.

After one successful week, school officials challenged students to do even better the second week. They did, so teachers and administrators paid off on a bet: They went to school with pink hair.

Allshouse said she helped students learn the meaning behind the money by sharing a story about her mother, who has cancer.

Raymond Smith's encounter with cancer was visible above the neck of his shirt. He has a scar that starts at his ear and dips down to his throat, where a surgeon removed a cancerous mass in 2001.

Smith, a Hagerstown resident, said he had sleep apnea, so he saw a doctor. During one visit, he had an emergency tracheotomy.

He said the urge to smoke cigarettes again is hard to shake, but he hasn't given in.

Across the park, people chatted, laughed, cried and shared each other's relief and grief.

Asher Hopkins, 6, and Caleb Hawbaker, 5, who each have survived a common form of childhood kidney cancer and were profiled in Friday's Herald-Mail, met for the first time.

Being with others who know and understand the fight, "it feels that you're not alone," Smith said.

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