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Relay for Life brings together ‘close-knit’ community
2018 Relay For Life
The American Cancer Society hosted Relay for Life at the Cumming Fairgrounds on Friday. The annual event raises money for cancer research. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

Though it may have had a festival-like atmosphere, an event at the Cumming Fairgrounds was held to tackle a disease that impacts many in the community.

On Friday, the American Cancer Society hosted Relay for Life at the fairgrounds, where those who have fought the disease were honored and funds were raised for future research through food, fun activities and a 5K.

“It’s the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraiser for cancer research, patient services and programs in the community,” said Rena Pendley, a senior community manager with American Cancer Society. “Tonight there are over 5,000 communities across the United States and 11 other countries who hold Relay for Life.”

As part of the event’s opening ceremony, a survivor walk was held. Later in the evening, those who came could take part in a luminaria ceremony in which each candle represented those who lost their lives to cancer, those fighting the disease and cancer survivors.

2018 Relay For Life
Kristin Johnson’s, left, son Wyatt, 5, was the youngest survivor to be honored during the event. He was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3. - photo by Bradley Wiseman
“We will remember those that we lost, and then we will honor those that are still with us,” Pendley said. 

Kristin Johnson attended the event wearing a sash that said “caregiver” in honor of her son Wyatt, a 5-year-old who was diagnosed with cancer at age 3. She said he was the youngest person honored at a survivor’s dinner. 

“It’s a horrible family to be a part of, but it’s also a wonderful family to be a part of that everyone is so supportive,” she said, adding: “I know for us, just having moved here less than a year-and-a-half ago, getting involved with an organization like this that is so much more than just a group of people, of survivors, it really is a close-knit community. I think when you have gone through something like this, you can relate on a different level.”

Johnson said she knows the pain most of the families have gone through.

“Just to see everyone out here tonight in good spirits, to think that so many of the people here have gone through just horrific circumstances,” Johnson said. “I think about him going through [chemotherapy] and how hard that was on him and on us, and all of these people here tonight full of life and full of hope, and I just think that really is what Relay for Life stands for.”

Pendley said 48 teams had fundraised for the events in different ways, a number he hoped to see increase next year.

Teams offered food, participation in the Ole 5K and other fun activities.

One activity meant to be both fun and educational was an inflatable colon large enough to walk through with examples of cancer and other diseases impacting the colon.

“When you walk through, it kind of shows you what normal tissue looks like all the way to metastatic colon cancer, so it kind of shows you what the insides look like and what we’re treating when we’re treating colon cancer,” said Ellie Kamarjian, an oncology pharmacist at Georgia Medical Specialists. “Colon cancer is hard because the symptoms are very similar to other things that you might have.”