Few would argue the Wilson County Relay For Life is one special night, but for one well-known Lebanon educator, Relay is special for several reasons.
Johnie Payton taught school in Lebanon for 39 years, but about 14 years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I didn’t have time to have cancer being a teacher and with everything going on in my life,” Payton said. “I didn’t have time to have surgery, but I did. We came to Relay. We set up our tent, and I had nurses and other people look for me because they knew I would be there. It was so special to walk a lap and spend the night.”
Four years ago, she was struck again with cancer, which required a double mastectomy to rid her of the disease.
At 64, she attended the Wilson County Relay For Life on Friday evening as a survivor, board member and strong supporter of the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
“There has to be a reason why I’m still here, and I think it’s so I can give back,” Payton said. “I talk to people from all over the U.S. because I also work at Cracker Barrel. I wear a ribbon on my apron, and a lot of people ask me about it. I’m able to share my story.”
One of her favorite parts of Relay each year is that first lap, the survivor’s lap, that includes cancer survivors kicking off the event.
“Just to have people cheer us on during that survivor lap is very special,” Payton said. “It’s a wonderful event, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
This year, the Wilson County Relay For Life moved up a few weeks from its former slot in late June to Friday night and transitioned from an overnight event to a shorter timeframe – from 6 p.m. until midnight – during the past two years. Held at the track behind Wilson Bank & Trust’s main office in Lebanon, the event drew hundreds of people, whether they were teammates, survivors or those who wanted to give a little to fight cancer.
Games, music, food and fun could be found all around as this year’s Relay For Life sought to reach its $100,000 goal.
Besides assisting Wilson County cancer patients with services like the Hope Lodge, networking with other survivors and informational support, the American Cancer Society has funded more than $8 million active cancer research grants in Tennessee. The research is performed at facilities like Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which is visited frequently by many Wilson County cancer patients during diagnosis and treatment.
Since its local inception in 1996, Relay For Life of Wilson County has raised more than $1.6 million for the American Cancer Society. The world’s largest grassroots fundraising movement, Relay For Life, helps support the American Cancer Society’s mission to save lives by helping people stay well, by helping people get well, by finding cures and by fighting back.