LUMBERTON — Sabrina Woods looks around as she walks persistently around the track at the Robeson County Fairgrounds. Her long black hair, pulled back in a pony tail, hangs down over some words on the back of her purple T-shirt: “I Am Hope.”
Woods, 33, is a cancer survivor of 15 years. She’s walking at the 17th annual Robeson County Relay for Life.
With nearly 5,000 events held every year, Relay is the largest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The 24-hour event, which began at noon on Friday and lasted until noon on Saturday, seeks to raise money for cancer research and awareness. It also allows cancer survivors and their families to celebrate life, while remembering lives lost to the disease.
According to the event’s website, as of Saturday afternoon, the event had raised more than $187,000, with the Robeson County government’s “Diamond Divas and Dukes” raising the most at $12,900. Committee member Lisa Hendren said the event will continue to raise money until August.
“We’ve got a good crowd, bigger than we expected,” Hendren said.
The event has been held at the football stadium of Lumberton High School for its first 16 years, but Hendren said it has outgrown the facility. It was moved this year to the fairgrounds.
This year, 86 teams and more than 2,200 people took part.
“I was so afraid to go the doctor because of what I found out,” Woods said while walking laps, recalling her diagnosis in 1997. “It’s just one of those things, when you’re told that, the first thing you want to do is not be faced with it.”
Woods had just given birth to her now 15-year-old son Tristan when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She said her ex-husband and his family were very supportive and helpful through her battle, including her father-in-law, who later died from cancer.
“It was a lot, and it was stressful,” Woods said, watching her 7-year-old daughter Hermione walk a few steps ahead. “You’ve got a little baby that’s just been born, and then you’re told something like this. You’re just starting your life.”
Woods after she finished treatment, she miscarried twins.
“It’s taken years of having to heal from that. That was the most difficult part for me,” she said.
The month her twins were due, Woods found out she was pregnant with her son Bailey, who is now 13.
At the Relay, Woods joined hundreds of other cancer survivors clad in purple T-shirts who walked the survivors and caregivers lap — with the popular Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’” echoing across the field.
Lining the track were more than 2,100 luminaries — white paper bags bearing the names of cancer survivors, or memorializing those who have passed on.
Relatives of Adell Lewis ask the volunteer lighting the luminaries if they can light hers.
“She was a dedicated Christian, and she loved to smile,” said Lewis’ daughter Carmela Hunt, who wore a T-shirt with Lewis’ picture.
Lewis, who was first diagnosed in 1999 with ovarian cancer, had two recurrences before dying in November from respiratory and circulatory complications, Hunt said.
“It was a struggle,” Hunt said. “It brought us closer together, because our main goal was to try to keep her safe and keep her healthy.”
Each paper bag told a story — a picture of a loved one who lost a battle with cancer, or words of encouragement to those who carry on the fight.
Dressed in a hot pink tutu adorned with striped bows, a pink T-shirt, a flower head band with a flashing light in the center and enough jewelry to make Liz Taylor blush, Joanie White told her story.
“I was standing in my salon last July with three bald-headed women,” said White, who works at the Making Waves salon in St. Pauls.
One of the women had brought her daughter to get a haircut.
“She was going through chemo, so she didn’t have any hair,” White said.
The second woman had recently completed chemotherapy.
“She’d brought another lady who we had just discovered had breast cancer, and her hair was coming out. Her head needed shaving,” White said as she wiped tears from her fake pink eye lashes.
That spurred White into action, arranging a team of 60 people to take part in Relay. Their team, “The Fabulous Floozies,” set up a colorful booth at the event, complete with Christmas lights, colored Chinese paper lanterns, 8-foot-tall totem poles that spouted fire from the tops and a non-alcoholic daiquiri bar.
“We’re just kind of flashy and trashy,” White said while leaning against the daiquiri bar, which was now clear after the group had sold about 200 daiquiris in five hours.
White said it took four pickup trucks, two vans and two SUVs to get all of the group’s equipment to the fairgrounds.
“We’re a first-year team, clueless to what we’re doing,” White said, adding that their goal was to raise $1,500. They raised $8,000 in about eight weeks.
For White, the best part of the night came long before they sold their last daiquiri, when she saw the woman whose head she’d shaved 10 months earlier walking the survivor’s lap.
“She walked up and told one of the people officiating, ‘She shaved my head,’” White said. “That day, I made up my mind that I would be a part of this. I have fallen in love.”
White said the Floozies will be back next year, and will stay the entire night as they did this year.
“I’m not missing a thing,” she said. “I’m gonna see this through.”