That was apparent as nearly 600 Robesonians walked the survivor lap at the 13th annual Relay for Life event on Friday night.
Young, old, black, Indian, white, women and men proudly made the quarter-mile lap on foot, in wheelchairs, some pushing strollers, with family and friends cheering them on. The 24-hour event had raised a record $176,000 as of Saturday afternoon — and more money was expected to come in.
“When you actually see all the survivors, there’s hope,” said Frances Baldwin, who has been to the event five times.
Baldwin was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 when she was 41 years old. Then, it was lung cancer in August 2007. As she walked the lap, she smiled big as she waved to friends in the crowd.
“If you look around and see all the purple shirts — it’s what keeps me motivated, keeps me volunteering,” she said.
Shereta Jenkins, a friend and co-worker from the Gibson Cancer Center in Lumberton, just smiled as Baldwin talked with a reporter for The Robesonian.
“She’s always this chipper, five days a week,” Jenkins said.
Baldwin said the biggest lesson she’s learned from having cancer is “to make every day count.”
“Early detection means a cure,” Baldwin said, her pink-ribboned flip-flops smacking her heels as she walked. “That’s the biggest thing with cancer.”
Baldwin has been volunteering for 15 years with the American Cancer Society. She called Relay for Life “very moving and very inspirational.”
For the event, tents erected by different civic groups and organizations from around the county lined the outside of the track. There was food, informational pamphlets and even camping tents for those who decided to make Lumberton High School home for the night.
Children played soccer and threw Frisbees on the football field, amid music and conversation. There were teary eyes when survivors told of when they were first diagnosed, then smiles when they shared the joy of beating back the killer disease.
According to the national organization, more than 4,000 people in Robeson County are survivors.
Danielle Miller freshly joined that number when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February.
“You feel scared,” Miller said. “The first thing I thought about was I can’t leave my children. Since then I realize (cancer research) has come a long way. It doesn’t mean just because you have it, you’re going to die.”
The 34-year-old mother of two has advice for others dealing with the disease.
“Stay strong,” she said. “Believe in the treatment. Have faith in the whole medical process, and stay positive that you’re going to be OK.”
Miller is the human resource supervisor at Quickie Manufacturing Company. This is the first year both Miller and the business have been involved in Relay for Life.
“I feel like all of our teammates, because of me, were so aggressive in raising money because it was so personal to them, too,” she said.
The company had raised almost $9,000 on Friday night.
According to Melissa Memoli, the event chairman, Quickie Manufacturing and Wal-Mart were about tied in raising the most money. Memoli said having those two big businesses, along with Sam’s Club, was a huge boost in this year’s participation.
“This is the best year in the event’s history,” Memoli said. “There’s more awareness, better publicity, more teams and new blood.”
Irene Stuart, president of the Sister’s Network Inc., a national organization of women who have survived cancer, said she’s been coming to the event for six years.
“Every year I come, it’s growing and growing,” she said. “Awareness is getting out there. Unfortunately it takes being affected by it to come out.”
For Memoli, who has never been diagnosed with the disease but has family members who have, her 5-year-old son is her motivation for getting involved.
“I don’t ever want him to come out here and do the same thing his mother is doing,” she said. “By that time, I don’t want him to have to come out to an event because there won’t be an event — there will be a cure for cancer.”