Lights of hope

Relay illuminates cancer’s scars

They walked laps because they survived the battle.

Others walked through the night in memory of those lost. Some sat on the side and rested, struggling with their afflictions.

The 6th annual Relay for Life on March 27 and 28 at Mackle Park, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, brought people together who reached for something greater then themselves or their pain.

They joined as a community set on finding a cure for cancer.

Marissa Megellcock, 11, and a member of Girl Scout Troop 389, summed up what so many others were thinking.

“We are here to honor survivors and to raise money for cures and medicines and research,” she said. It was the fourth year the Girl Scouts helped set up sandbagged luminarias.

For Ryan Sullivan, younger brother of Scout Cassie Sullivan, being part of the relay was more personal.

“There’s a lot of people that died from cancer,” he said. “Uncle Nick died but my Grampy is still alive. My Grammy is almost dead though.”

He straightened a luminaria blown over in the evening’s winds. Each bag was marked with the name of a cancer victim, some with added love notes or prayers. By dusk, the entire track was lined with more than 600 luminarias.

“We have bags for them here, too,” said Ryan, referring to his family members afflicted by cancer.

At 6 p.m., Cheryl Axelson, 2009 event chairwoman, welcomed participants who stood for the presentation of colors by honor guards Dave Gardner, Chris Quinton and Lee Henderson of the Marco Island VFW. Marva Sutt sang the National Anthem.

Cancer survivors Dave Bierbrauer and Elaina LaGrotta led the first lap of the all-night relay. Behind them other followed, clothed in purple T-shirts signifying survivor status.

Mary DuBrucq and Glenn and Anne Lillis from The Monterrey at Cape Marco stood close to the lap’s start. Anne Lillis is a 6-year survivor; her husband has been cancer-free for 5 years.

“It makes you realize how many purple shirts there are,” Anne Lillis said. “It’s very inspiring.”

Macro Island City Councilor Jerry Gibson and Chuck Hall, cancer-free for 5 years, greeted people as they passed.

“This event creates an awareness of the number of people you see every day without realizing how many have survived,” Gibson said. “With the research events like this support, I think we’ll see many more.”

Marco Island Councilor Wayne Waldack came to honor his family and to present organizers a proclamation from the City of Marco Island supporting the American Cancer Society’s efforts.

“Three years and four days ago I lost my son. Seven years ago I lost my brother, and 10 years ago I lost my dad,” an emotional Waldack said as he stood beside one of the team tents.

Dusty and Nancy Rhodes stood beside him. Nancy Rhodes held back her hair to show the scars left on her face where doctors removed different skin cancers. Even at that, she was thinking of others.

“We’re here for Disco Dave (Bierbrauer),” she said. “We’re so glad he’s been cancer-free since St. Patrick’s Day.”

The 2009 theme for team entries was “Relay Around the World.” Each team chose a different country as its motif and sold representative foods. Team garb, booths and “spirit sticks” were designed to portray the selected country.

Two care awards were given. Monica Buddemeyer received the 2009 Bert Brewer Caregiver Award, and Marva Sutt received the “Spirit of Relay” award.

Throughout the evening music, games, chatting, walking and revelry continued until 9 p.m. when the park’s lights were darkened and luminarias lit.

A flame was passed from one hand-held candle to others. As a bagpiper played, participants walked a lap in memory of those who had died. Luminarias ascending the steps of a metal bleacher spelled out “Hope.”

Earlier, Axelson reported that the Relay for Life had exceeded its goal even before the event started. She urged teams to work throughout the evening to raise more money for cancer related funding. By night’s end, the event raised more than $110,000.

However, for those walking the illuminated way during the 9 p.m. solemn ceremony, thoughts were centered on the deeper significance of this relay. All participants appeared unified in expressing their feelings of loss for cancer victims who could not be there, and in consolidating their determination to find a cure for this dread disease.

Teams and sponsors were: Team France – Bistro Soleil; Team Mexico – M&I Bank; Team Brazil – Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort and Spa; Team Cuba – Disco Dave Bierbrauer; Team Australia – Accurate Comfort Services and Scooter Marco; Team Argentina – 1st Choice Home Health Care; Team Italy – Bank of America; Team Germany – Rosalen and Chad Moran; Team U.S.A. – Sascha’s Salon & Day Spa; Team Ireland – The Monterrey at Cape Marco; Team Scotland – Walgreen Drug Stores; and Team Jamaica – St. Mark’s Youth Group. Marco Island Charter Middle School provided the Wall of Hope.

Next year’s Relay for Life is scheduled for March 26 and 27, 2010.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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