As the group of cancer survivors walked into the gymnasium at Hastings Senior High School, friends and family cheered them on. Wearing purple, the survivors made two laps around the hardwood floor for the 24th Relay for Life of Adams County on Friday, put on by the American Cancer Society.
Then, the survivors' caregivers joined them. They also walked around the gymnasium, once again giving their support to the survivors they helped or are helping care for.
Finally, everyone joined in. Friend and stranger walked together with the intent to “celebrate, remember and fight back,” as was the survivors' purple shirts said.
Wright's Warriors was one of the over 20 teams that joined in on the celebration. Mary Ann Wright, John Thorshein and Sue Phinney were all Hastings area teachers who overcame cancer and part of Wright's Warriors. Wright said she enjoys camaraderie between the survivors and caregivers.
“If you've gone through cancer, you understand what others have gone through,” said Judy Thorshein, wife and caregiver to John. John said he had breast cancer in 2006, after retiring from 35 years of teaching.
Others at the relay remembered. As everyone walked around the gymnasium, luminaries sat in a square on the hardwood and along the gymnasium's bleachers. Each white paper bag was decorated to remember someone who battled continues battling or passed away from cancer.
Each bag contained a small electric light that shined later in the night when gymnasiums lights were turned down.
Judy Rieners placed a luminaire for husband Johnny, who passed away nine years ago of brain cancer.
“It's just to honor him,” she said.
According to Sara McCarty, the community development manager for American Cancer Society,, over 800 luminaires were made for the night. But the American Cancer Society is one of the players in helping fight cancer back.
McCarty said that the relay usually brings in about $40,000. The American Cancer Society uses the funds to help pay for cancer research, but also treatment support. Treatment support includes rides to treatment and lodging for out-of-town treatment.
“Seventy-five cents of every dollar goes to those programs and services … and then the other 25 cents goes to research,” McCarty said.
The funds are raised through donations from teams and participants, as well as the luminaries. There was also a silent auction to help raise donations.
According McCarty, the relay usually has about 200 survivors.
“We hate to say that we have that many individuals diagnosed, of course, but we are proud that they want to come to the event and they motivated. They're obviously happy and proud of their accomplishments,” McCarty said.
The event this year was held inside the Hastings High School gymnasium despite initial plans to host it outside. Rainy weather the night before made the track wet and prone to damage from everyone walking.
The American Cancer Society also has a call center to give cancer patients information and wigs. The American Cancer Society has the Hope Lodge in Omaha, where patients and their families can stay while receiving treatment.
“Tonight, if anything, it's a moment to all kind of take a step back and remind ourselves that while we get those curve balls, that we can overcome them,” McCarty said.
The Hastings Public School summer band performed music and the YWCA School of Dance performed.
Another Relay for Life was held on Friday at for Buffalo County. Hall County and York are hosting their Relay for Life fundraisers June 8.
The Relay for Life event started in 1985 when Gordon Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Washington, walked around a track for 24 hours to fundraise for cancer research.