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Spirits not dampened by rain-out

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image From left are Connie Bishop, Alyssa Uptegraff, Amanda Williams and Linda Williams. Co-chairwomen of the event Jennifer Petit and Jennifer Caskey were busy preparing the field while these women manned the tent. Photo Penny Fletcher

The annual Relay for Life is a benefit for the 100-year-old American Cancer Society to help in prevention, education, treatment and research in an attempt to wipe out cancer.

It was the first time South County’s Relay for Life, held at Riverview High School this year, didn’t last 18 hours.

Severe rain and thunderstorms caused the teams and spectators gathered on the football field to go into the gymnasium shortly after the opening ceremonies this past Saturday, March 29.

There wasn’t a hint of a cloud during the setup as 49 teams with 791 participants gathered in the carnival-like atmosphere prepared by the International Independent Showmen’s Association.

“This is our third year participating,” said Teresa Rimes, who led the Showmen’s team. “This puts us over the $100,000 mark,” for donations to fight cancer by helping with the relays.

Rimes said Showmen’s also had the volunteer job of carrying out the theme of this year’s event, which they aptly named “Carnival.” They set up everything from a ticket booth to a tall Fun Slide and booths selling food and hawking games.

Caramel apples, lemonade and hot dogs helped fuel the participants from the start.

Opening ceremonies went off without a hitch, with keynote speaker Karen Lewendowski leading the fight of the cancer survivors with an inspiring talk about the years since her first diagnosis in 2006.

“I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2006,” she said. “Then in September of 2010, cancer was back.  I was admitted to LifePath Hospice, but I continued to go to Hillsborough Community College while on hospice care. In November 2011 I was discharged from hospice and enrolled into their Hospice Support Program,  but I was discharged in December of 2012.”

Then in February, she found that the cancer had moved to a lung. A hospitalization and a bout with pneumonia followed, but by April, Lewendowski began chemotherapy, and in May she graduated with honors with a purple Mohawk-style haircut before losing all her hair.

“Living with cancer is like driving in the fog,” she said. “We plan our days and our goals by the feet instead of by the mile. We squeeze out just a little bit more every day, knowing that next month is not promised.”

Knowing that she expects to remain on chemotherapy for the rest of her life, Lewendowski says she emphasizes living life to the fullest — not just every day, but every moment.

Many on the track during the Survivors Lap are in remission. Others are not. It is always the first lap of the relay, followed by the Caregivers Lap.

The rain held off in the beginning but soon began in torrents. Finally the teams, who had prepared to stay for the entire 18 hours of the event, had to leave the field.

The high school opened its gymnasium to them, where the Luminaria was held at 4:30 p.m. instead of at dusk, and the closing ceremonies with glow sticks came shortly afterward.

It was reported that South County’s effort had brought in more than $97,689.72, with some money still uncounted.

The annual Relay for Life is a benefit for the 100-year-old American Cancer Society to help in prevention,  education,  treatment and research in an attempt to wipe out cancer.

Its motto is “Every birthday celebrated.”

This year’s Florida Relay motto was “Finish the Fight.”

The American Cancer Society also has various programs to assist those at just about every stage of treatment and recovery.

Reach to Recovery is a program where specially trained survivors encourage those just diagnosed.  The Look Good Feel Good program has cosmetologists, barbers and other beauty specialists who offer free advice and sometimes even hands-on help to make those who have lost hair or have other visible symptoms find ways to dress to make themselves feel more confident. Transportation services to treatments also are included in the Road to Recovery program.

Nationwide, approximately 5,200 community relays take place annually on the same day in March.

To find out more about the American Cancer Society or its programs, visit www.cancer.org or call 800-227-2345.

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