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Relay for Life closing ceremony is soggy, sleepy but spirited

June 20, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- They hunkered under a tarp, seeking shelter from the pouring rain.

It was 7:30 a.m. Most everyone at the closing ceremony for American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of Washington County had been at Fairgrounds Park for 12 hours or more.

They were soggy and sleepy-eyed, but they remained focused on the task at hand -- celebrating the lives of cancer survivors; remembering those who succumbed to disease; and fighting back through advocacy, education and the common conviction that cancer someday will be eliminated.

Relay for Life is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and event co-chairwoman Trish Rowland conveyed the American Cancer Society's campaign to "Find the 25th Hour in the Day" to the crowd.

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"In the same 12 hours we have been out on this field, 36 people in the state of Maryland have been diagnosed with cancer. Fourteen of them will lose the battle," Rowland said. "Don't you think it's time we found the 25th hour in our days to help free family and friends from the pain that cancer causes?"

Rowland thanked everyone in attendance for their support for the event, particularly in light of the rainy morning weather. Co-chairman Tom Sweeney Jr. said the weather was fair for Friday night's activities, including the survivor lap, band performances and the luminaria ceremony.

"We heard there would be a severe storm coming around 3:30 in the morning, but there was only a shower," he said.

When a heavy downpour began just before the morning's closing ceremony and persisted throughout, Rowland decided to forego the final lap of the event.

Tina Wolfensberger, 41, of Hagerstown, wrapped her arms around her sons, Joey, 11, and Riley, 8, during the ceremony. Wolfensberger said she first participated in Relay for Life in 2003, when her oldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her sister lost her fight with the disease the following year.

"I have another sister who was diagnosed with colon cancer last year," Wolfensberger said. "She is fighting that, so we continue to walk."

Both of Wolfensberger's parents are cancer survivors.

Jackie Thompson, 68, of Hagerstown, like Wolfensberger, knows cancer all too well. She has lost her father, her husband, her nephew and her son to cancer. Thompson was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Now, she is in remission.

"When I was diagnosed, my surgeon said, 'Do you understand what I'm saying? You have cancer.' And I said, 'I'm saying, I'll just get up each day and move each foot forward,'" Thompson said.

Last week, Thompson cracked her sternum in an accident, but she did not hesitate to attend Relay for Life.

"Oh, that's not going to deter me," she said.

Nearly 600 people participated in Relay for Life. Sweeney estimated the event raised more than $112,000.

Organizers continue to accept donations at www.wacorelayforlife.org and through the local office at 301-733-8272.

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