A Different Kind Of Healing

Thousands Attend Annual Relay Event

Posted: May 4, 2013

Hundreds of survivors, supporters, caregivers and loved ones of those affected by cancer march during Friday’s 18th annual Relay for Life of Harrisonburg/Rockingham at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds. (Photos by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
Mikayla Morton, 7, (center) marches with Cubs for a Cure on Friday during the Relay for Life at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds. Morton acted as a caregiver for her mother, who battled cancer.
Luminaries lines the path of the 18th annual Relay for Life of Harrisonburg/Rockingham on Friday evening at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds. Hundreds of cancer survivors, fighters, supporters and caregivers attended the event and walked to celebrate life.
Supporters of cancer survivors and those still battling the disease decorate luminaries to honor those who have lived and died during the 18th annual Relay for Life of Harrisonburg/Rockingham at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds on Friday.
Hundreds gather and listen as Michelle Branner chronicles her battle with cancer during the opening ceremony of the Relay for Life on Friday at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
HARRISONBURG — In 2001, Elkton resident Judy Kite received the news no woman wants to hear: She had breast cancer.
Telling her friends and family, including her two sons, was as draining emotionally as the chemotherapy treatments and surgery she endured were physically.
A few months later, a friend asked the 59-year-old to attend the Relay For Life of Harrisonburg/Rockingham in 2002.
Kite was reluctant at first, but decided to attend. Once there, she knew she made the right choice, seeing all her fellow survivors and supporters.
“We were all there to fight this terrible, terrible disease,” said Kite, captain of The Crushers — a team that has raised more than $120,000 in the last 10 years. “It was just medicine for my soul.”
Raising Funds
Kite was one of thousands of Shenandoah Valley residents to participate in the annual event that began Friday evening at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds. The local event, now in its 18th year, is the largest fundraiser for the area’s American Cancer Society office, located in Harrisonburg.
As of Friday, there were 103 teams, with more than 1,400 team members combined. At least one person in each team is asked to remain walking throughout the relay, which lasts 12 hours.
Annika Dean, the cancer society’s local community manager, said this year’s goal is to raise $418,000. Throughout the year, teams hold fundraisers, from bake sales to bingo nights, to help reach the goal.
Most of the money raised from the event stays in the area, Dean said.
The local ACS office has a variety of programs, including one that offers free rides to and from cancer treatments. The office also offers support groups for cancer patients.
“We’re working every day to support our survivors,” Dean said. “Whether you were diagnosed 50 years ago or five minutes ago, you’re a survivor.”
‘A Great Big Party’
Sharon Skates, 33, of Broadway, is one of those survivors.
Skates, who took part in her fourth Relay event Friday, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2008. She has been cancer-free since 2009, when she started her own Relay team, Warrior Women — Stronger than Cancer, with four people.
Now, her team has grown to 24 members, including six survivors.
In addition to helping raise money, she started the team to help create awareness about the local ACS office.
“I didn’t realize what was out there …  what I could have taken advantage of,” said Skates, a baker who specializes in decorated cakes.
While taking part in Relay for Life can be an emotional time, she said, teams have a lot of fun. Throughout the night, and into the early morning hours, participants camp, play games and eat a lot of food.
“It really is a great, big party,” Skates said.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or pdelea@dnronline.com

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