Relay For Life kicks off
by Sherrie Norris
Dozens of relay leaders, returning team captains and team members, as well as several newcomers, gathered at Deerfield United Methodist Church in Boone at 6 p.m. for the event that officially opened the Relay For Life fundraising season in Watauga County.
The main event may be four months away, but it's never too early to start fighting cancer, said Kathy Idol, who is returning as co-chairwoman, along with Brian Barker who also serves as accounting chairman.
Thursday's gathering celebrated last year's success, which included 36 teams comprised of 288 team members raising $115,328 in Watauga County.
The goal for 2014 has been set at $138,000.
Joined by Melissa Hiatt, community manager, Idol and Barker welcomed those in attendance and shared information in preparation for this year's Relay For Life, which will be held June 20-21 at Watauga High School.
Recognition was given to several teams and individuals for their outstanding contributions to the 2013 event.
The three teams raising the most money were Friends for Life ($11,406), Deerfield Dream Team ($11,260) and Jerry's Intimidators ($10,621).
It came as no surprise to anyone that Della Presnell was again recognized as the individual having raised the most money for her team, Ted's Troops, with $4,290. Presnell has, for several years, consistently been honored as the adult raising the most money for relay in Watauga County.
It's something she does, she said, to honor the memory of her late son, Ted Presnell, whose life was claimed by cancer.
"I can't get out and do as much as I once did," she said. "But, I still do what I can."
Following Presnell's lead was Amber Hamby, who earned the top fundraiser title in the youth division, with $3,145 for her team, Bethel Believers.
Receiving the Heart of Relay Award was Jennifer Lacey, who became chairwoman of the Parkway Patriots school team in 2013. She had been a member of the team for several years. The team's efforts were "re-energized" after it became known that Donna Raichel and Elizabeth Buchanan, teachers at Parkway, were diagnosed with cancer.
The Parkway team enrolled students and teachers last year and held several fundraising events. They were in charge of the JUMP inflatables at relay, which is a popular part of the annual event.
Lacey teaches fourth grade at Parkway, is married and the mother of two sons, who are on the team and usually attend team meetings with her.
She will be working with all school teams in Watauga this year to make this the best ever for school teams, Idol said.
Jeannie Caviness was recognized as committee member of the year for her contributions to her church team, Deerfield Dream Team, and to the year-round success of Relay For Life in Watauga County.
Caitlin's Reason To Relay
Delivering a compelling speech to those gathered was Caitlin Lemon, a psychology major at Appalachian State University.
Lemon and her roommate Brianna Brooks, who accompanied her to the kickoff, have been participating in Relay For Life since they were freshmen in high school.
"Relay For Life is very personal to me," Lemon said. "In January of 2006, I went to the emergency room with my father who had incapacitating back pain. Tests revealed several masses throughout his body, with a large one near his liver. He was eventually diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GIST, for short."
The prognosis was poor, she said.
"My father was told he would be lucky to see me graduate high school. He never even saw me off to my first day," she said.
In the fall of 2007, while Lemon and her mother were attending her sister's soccer tournament several hours from home, they received a call from Lemon's father in the middle of the night saying he couldn't see and was blacking out.
"We sped home and immediately went to the hospital," she said, something that became routine for several weeks.
"On Christmas Eve, my father coded in his hospital room," she said. "The doctor told us one of the tumors had ruptured and that he was in liver failure." He died eight days later.
"Getting over the loss of my father was very hard for me. I would never wish the pain of a cancer diagnosis on anyone else," she said. "No one deserves to live through that nightmare."
Little did she know that she would relive that experience just a few short years later. "My grandmother passed away in November from melanoma," she said.
Lemon helps raise funds for the American Cancer Society and she doesn't mind staying out all night at the main Relay For Life event when it takes place.
She is also the top fundraiser at Appalachian State University's Relay For Life. "I relay for more than the memory of the people in my life who have passed," she said. "I relay for every parent, wife, husband, daughter, son, best friend and grandparent. No one should ever have to hear the words, 'You have cancer.' No one should ever receive a diagnosis where there is no cure, no light at the end of the tunnel. No one should have to miss the special moments in life that matter -- your son's first football game, your daughter's wedding, going to Paris for that 50th anniversary. And no parent should ever go through the horror of burying their child."
Lemon said she was shocked to learn "just how many crucial cancer studies go unfunded every year."
Opportunities for breakthroughs in treatment and chances of having hope each year do not just happen, she added.
"Relay For Life is so important, and I think everyone who has the opportunity should participate," she said.
Lemon sees relays as a chance to get the ideas, the treatments, and the cure out of someone's mind and into action, she said. "It's an opportunity to allow more people to participate in the important moments in life, the ones so many have missed out on; to allow people to hear the words, 'You're cancer free.' There's strength in numbers," Lemon said, "and, together, I know we can finish the fight against cancer."
The 2014 kickoff ended with a video called "All You Need to Know About Relay" and updated committee reports.
Words of appreciation were directed to Deerfield United Methodist Church for providing meeting space and to Subway and Walmart of Boone for donating food for the evening meal.
Team rallies will be held at Greenway Baptist Church on designated dates. Registration and commitment fees are due by March 3. Team members must raise $100 by May 20 to be eligible for a team T-shirt.
For more information about the 2014 Watauga County Relay For Life, email (email@example.com) or (firstname.lastname@example.org)