By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Local cancer survivors will gear up to participate in this year's Southeast Volusia Relay for Life walk-a-thon Friday, May 3, to raise money for cancer research.
Leading the walk and her team Beach Gals for a Cure as torchbearer is Erin Clancy, a nine-year cancer survivor. She will be walking with another survivor, Bill Raines, in the survivor's lap at the beginning of the relay.
"I am so happy and honored to be chosen," Ms. Clancy, 27, said. "It's always a happy day after fighting and surviving cancer. Almost 9 years for me. We are such a great community. Every year we have so much fun raising awareness and money for the cause to find a cure."
New Smyrna Beach Police Sgt. Chris Roos also will be participating in the survivor lap of the Relay. Just over five years ago, he was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer and given 90 days to live. "My doctor told me I am the first -- and only -- patient he has treated with stage 4 colon cancer to survive longer than five years. That's not bad for someone who was told to get his personal life in order," Sgt. Roos said.
He is part of the City of New Smyrna Beach Relay for Life team that has been raising money for more than four months for cancer research. "We've raffled items, sold luminaries and held several other fundraisers," said Lt. Donna Lavalle, event co-chair for the city team. "Chris is a living and vibrant example of someone who benefited from advancements against cancer. We want to support that effort, honor cancer survivors, and remember those we have lost."
Sgt. Roos said his family and "extended police family" were crucial to his survival. Members of that extended family will join him in the relay, including police officer Matt Schaeffer, also a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1998. "It's pretty moving to see our police officers walk behind our survivors at the start of the event," said Brenda Henrickson, city fleet manager and event operations chair.
Another cancer survivor, Judy Johnson, is leading the Westside Relay for Life team whose mission is "to continue to fight back until we hear these words 'Cancer Walks the Plank.'"
"The day that changed my life forever was May 5, 2011," Ms. Johnson said. "I was diagnosed with cancer. The start of a rough journey was telling the people I love the most, the people that depend on me, that I am now in the fight for my life. The six months to follow were filled with daily radiation, chemo and hospital stays, all with my family by my side. Most days filled with fear and prayer."
Ms. Johnson feels lucky to be alive and thankful for all the help and support she received from friends, family and the medical community particularly from the American Cancer Society. "I remember the first call my mom and I made to the ACS. A compassionate volunteer with vast knowledge of my cancer gave me the guidance, the answers, access to support groups, transportation, meals, and wigs, on and on. They could not do enough to support us through this scary journey. They eased my mind and heart through days of fear and doubt," Ms. Johnson said.
The Relay walk is one way Ms. Johnson said she can give back to the community. She urged people to make a donation, sponsor a team member or join the relay.
"Everyone has been touched by cancer, either through their own personal battle or through someone they love," she said. "Every day, the American Cancer Society is helping us stay well by preventing cancer or finding it at its earliest, most treatable stages. They assist families in finding the best resources to help their friend or loved one deal with a diagnosis and their journey to get well. The American Cancer Society is also rallying communities (like ours!) through events like Relay for Life, to fight back and find cures for this disease."
"The good news, I am here to talk about it. I realize now I am one of the very lucky ones. My heart breaks every day for the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children and friends who do not get that second chance," Ms. Johnson said. "We have made great strides in the last few years that have made it possible to save more lives, but it is still not enough. We cannot rest until the hearts stop breaking and we have a cure for all cancers."
The Relay begins at 5:30 p.m. at Riverside Park in New Smyrna Beach with participants gathering at 1000 Live Oak St. It kicks off with a grand opening ceremony sharing survivor stories and offering hope. The first lap of the relay will be for cancer survivors and will be followed by a lap for the survivors and their caregivers. There will also be a luminary ceremony to honor those who have been lost to cancer. The purpose of the ceremony is to celebrate the lives of those who have passed and help their loved ones work through their grief and instill hope for the future. The relay will continue through the night and end with a closing ceremony at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 4.
The Relay entertainment committee also has a variety of activities, including a Purple Power Lap, Community Hat Lap, My Relay Contest, Backward Lap, Hula Hoop Contest, PJ and Slippers Lap, Talent Show, Scavenger Hunt and a hair contest. The Show Dolls, Joey Miller and, DJ Big Tom, karaoke and much more.
The American Cancer Society encourages people to join the relay or support a local team or participant to help raise money for cancer research of all types of cancers.