‘Cancer never sleeps’

Published 5:21 pm Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Many a Friday night battle has been waged on the grass at Bulldog Stadium, 205 21st Street, Nederland. The night of Friday, April 26, was no different. But this time, that battle did not involve helmets and pads.

More than 70 teams gathered at the stadium for Relay for Life of South-Mid Jefferson County, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

“It really is Relay for Life,” said team captain development chair Mandy Clayton of Nederland, who has been involved with the event for the past nine years. “Once you’re here, you’re here for life.”

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Relay for Life originated in 1985 in Tacoma, Wash., when colorectal surgeon Gordon Klatt decided to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of his patients. For 24 hours, Klatt walked the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound. Friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. At the end of the night, Klatt had walked approximately 83 miles and raised $27,000 for cancer research.

Last year, South-Mid Jefferson County alone raised almost $270,000. At the beginning of the night, the organization had raised $175,000 — more than halfway to their goal of $300,000, Clayton said.

“It’s a great, great organization,” she said. “It provides hope to so many people who are struggling with cancer, and their friends and family.”

Relay for Life is the second largest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society in the nation. Clayton said all but 40 percent of funds raised goes directly to the foundation, with the other 40 percent set aside for research.

The event kicked off at 6:30 p.m. with the traditional survivors’ lap, when more than 200 survivors, all dressed in purple, took a lap around the stadium to commemorate their triumph over the disease that never sleeps. At the end of the lap, each survivor rang the victory bell.

Marion Ray sounded the victory bell 14 times to signal the end of his lap. Ray was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in both lungs nearly 14 years ago, on June 16, 1999. Since then, he has faced the disease four more times, including a recent diagnosis.

However, Ray has no intention of lying down. He participates in Relay for Life every year, he said, to show everyone he still has the spunk to get around.

“They offered me a golf cart,” said Ray, who lives in Groves. “I said, ‘No way.’”

“The survivor’s walk is about walking, not about riding, right?” added Ray’s daughter-in-law, Melissa Ray of Nederland.

When he learned of his most recent diagnosis, Marion Ray told his daughter-in-law, “I ain’t going nowhere until the good Lord’s ready for me.”

Ray said he hopes to attend the relay for at least the next five years.

“My grandkids say the good Lord won’t take me yet,” he said. “I’m too ornery.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA