Lee Relay for Life raises money for cancer research

May. 10, 2013 @ 10:20 PM

Cancer survivor Sharon Petty has participated in Relay for Life for the past six years, but it was her first that was the hardest.

“I didn’t want people to know I had cancer,” she said. “But I started healing by God’s grace and wanted to start talking to others and encourage them.”

She’s thankful, she said, that Lee County has this type of event and is able to raise funds for survivors and cancer research. 

The 18th annual Lee County Relay for Life kicked off Friday night at the Sanford Lions Club Fairgrounds to raise funds for the American Cancer Society and honor those who have fought cancer. Survivors were celebrated with a special walk. Throughout the evening, luminaries lit the track around the fairgrounds and musical acts kept people on their feet.

Melinda Wilson, who has served on the Lee County committee for six years, helped register cancer survivors and caretakers, while providing them their shirts and gift items.

Wilson’s sister died from breast cancer and her great-nephew was just diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that attacks young children.

“This year, I am busting butt for him,” Wilson said. Wilson’s daughter Brooke was also at the event, registering the more than 300 cancer survivors present at the event.

“We do this for the survivors,” she said. “Making sure we acknowledge they’re fighting.”

More than 30 Beaver Creek Baptist Church members cooked food, played games and walked the track Friday, including Gloria Wicker, the leader of the church’s monthly cancer support group. A survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma herself, Wicker said she participates to remember and let other survivors know they are not forgotten.

“I want people to see how emotional of an event this is,” Wicker said. “There is so much support.”

Sanford City Council member Rebecca Wyhof, a member of the city’s Relay team, said she was excited to participate in Friday’s event.

“I hope people see the sense of community here,” she said. “The sense of celebration and remembrance for how all of our lives and our community has been touched by cancer.”

Several of the teams sold or raffled off food, jewelry and other prizes to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Coty employee Ofelia Walker helped her coworkers solicit donations in exchange for beauty products.

“We have to help,” she said. “We have a lot of survivors at Coty and friends we need to support.”

For Billy Keith and his wife, Sheila, this year’s event hit close to home.

“I was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and I have surgery Monday,” he said. “We knew we were going to make it this year.”

The Keiths said they caught the prostate cancer early and they’ve been told it’s contained.

“It’s a wonderful event,” Sheila Keith said. “A wonderful thing.”