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Relay for Life kickoff Thursday
Annual fundraiser is for cancer research
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Forsyth County News
At a glance
* What: Relay for Life kickoff
* When: 6 p.m. Thursday, campsite selection and expo; kickoff program follows at 6:30 p.m., with the expo and social at 7:15 p.m.
* Where: Forsyth County Board of Education Office, 1120 Dahlonega Hwy.
* Contact: Valery Hall at (770) 887-2461 or, or go online at

Get your walking shoes ready. This year's Forsyth County Relay Life kicks off Thursday night.

While the actual relay won't take place until May 15, organizers invite all teams and people interested in participating in the annual American Cancer Society fundraiser to attend the kickoff.

"We are so fortunate to live in a community that comes together for these types of events, so we look forward to having everyone participate in celebration or remembrance of someone special," said Valery Hall, co-chair of the relay organizing committee.

Last year, 76 teams with some 1,200 participants and more than 225 survivors raised $248,000 through the relay.

This year's goals are to raise at least $275,000, Hall said, with participation from 95 teams and more than 250 cancer survivors. Organizers are also seeking corporate sponsorships.

The Vorbecks are one family that will definitely be celebrating during this year's relay. Jenna Vorbeck, 6, has been named "honorary chair," meaning she will serve as an ambassador of sorts for the event.

Jenna's father, Stephen Vorbeck, explained that in December 2007 Jenna was diagnosed with a posterior fossa tumor, which occurs in the back and lower part of the skull. It usually involves the brainstem and cerebellum after a sudden and completely unexpected seizure.

Later that month, the Chattahoochee Elementary kindergartner underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove the brain tumor at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"When we went in [for the surgery], we were told it would be a two-week deal," Stephen Vorbeck said. "We ended up being in the hospital until the end of January [2008]."

Like many children with her type of tumor, she developed what is known as posterior fossa syndrome, which can cause cognitive impairments such as absence of speech, memory problems and a change in personality.

While today she is cancer-free, Jenna still suffers the effects of the tumor.

Her dad explained that she has been in constant therapy to help her "relearn" life and cognitive skills such as eating, walking and talking.

"She started therapy one week after her surgery," he said. "Now she does therapy four times a week through a private facility and at school on Tuesday."

Overall, her father said, she is doing well and "very excited" to be involved in the relay.

"It took a little communication from me to her for her to understand, but she's very excited," he said. "It shows she's come a long way ... she's a very strong little girl."

Hall said Jenna Vorbeck represents what Relay for Life is all about.

"Jenna was selected this year because of her work in raising money for various cancer networks, as well as her involvement in the past for Relay for Life," Hall said. "Her story has touched so many, so we thought she could be a 'poster girl' for what this event is all about."

In addition to celebrating survivors, tonight's kickoff gives teams the opportunity to sign up for campsite locations and mingle with fellow participants.

"Kickoff is a time for anyone interested in participating in relay whether they want to register and existing or new team or just want to join us to start gearing excitement towards the event," Hall said.