BELPRE - Thousands of people filled Civitan Park on Friday evening to support cancer survivors and honor those who lost their battles during the 19th annual Relay for Life of Washington County.
"More important than the money raised tonight is the strength and hope you draw from each other," said Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz. "You are hope and you are our strength."
Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said he has attended many Relay for Life events, but this year is different.
Pauline Haisley, 92, a four-time cancer survivor, led the Survivor’s Lap on Friday during the 19th annual Washington County Relay for Life in Civitan Park. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"This is my first year as a cancer survivor," Matthews said through tears.
Friday's event began with a Survivor's Dinner and moved through the evening and into the night with activities going on at all times.
"Throughout the Relay we do a lot of little things to honor those who are survivors as well as those we have lost to this terrible disease," said Connie Grimes, one of the event organizers. "We are here for those people who have fought cancer."
The Relay is a way for former and current cancer patients to join with those who have lost a loved one or been affected by cancer in some way to work together, Grimes said.
"Those wearing the purple shirts are our heroes," she added.
This year's relay is one of the largest for Washington County with nearly 200 cancer survivors and more than 60 teams participating.
"This is a great event," said survivor Chris Hendrickson, of Marietta, who was also honored for her tenacity.
"I beat breast cancer 15 years ago and last year was told I had it again," she said. "I just finished my last chemo treatment and have started my first radiation.
"Being at the Relay with family and friends is amazing - to know the love and support is wonderful," Hendrickson continued.
One of the new teams is Threads of Hope of the Little Hocking area, which raised about $6,000 in its first year.
Of all of the small parts of the Relay, the luminaria service is where those who lost their battles with cancer, those still struggling and those who have won were honored with their names on luminaria bags along the walkway in Civitan Park.
This is the second year for the reusable luminaria, sponsored by Cawley and Peoples, Leavitt's of Belpre and McClure-Schafer-Lankford funeral homes.
Some of the participants in the annual Relay are family, friends and neighbors who have dealt with cancer themselves. Their involvement is proof of the progress that has reduced death rates, but also improved the quality of life following cancer treatment.
Members of all 68 teams from various businesses, organizations, churches and families camped out at Civitan Park overnight and took turns walking and buying food and other items from various team booths around the walking track.
Chad Gardner, income development representative for the American Cancer Society, said he believes this year's goal of $179,000 is attainable.
"Since we had more than $105,000 raised going into the event, I think we will reach it," he said. "Most of our teams have been working all year to raise this money to help eradicate cancer. It's not just an overnight event for us."
The funds raised enable the ACS to continue the fight against cancer through research, education, advocacy and patient services.
"There has to be a cure out there somewhere and as long as people keep going out and working to find it, we will win," said Hendrickson.