Cancer survivors and supporters gathered Friday evening and stayed into early Saturday morning at the Castle Heights Track in Lebanon. But for Halliburton, it all began when he found a knot in his throat in 2010. Surgeries, chemotherapy and recovery in a nursing home soon followed, but not everyone is as fortunate.
More than 35,000 Tennesseans shared the experience of living with cancer in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease.
More than 75 survivors were among the large crowd gathered to celebrate the lives of those affected by cancer. The Relay For Life featured survivor and caregiver laps, in which survivors, their friends, family and neighbors walked in support of one another.
Luminary lanterns lined the loose, black-gravel track illuminating cancer victims’ names. Torches donned with purple ribbons and metal nameplates were displayed at the beginning of the track, among other decorated lanterns that spelled out “HOPE,” in a hope garden.
As the sun set, the lanterns and torches were lit in a luminary ceremony, creating a trail of light that burned throughout the night.
One of those victims, Debbie Harper, was honored by her son, Dustin Gibbs. “Last year I lost her to lung cancer,” Gibbs said, “It’s been pretty heartbreaking and heart wrenching to be here.”
Gibbs reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, sliver heart-shaped locket, displaying it proudly.
“I hold this little locket with my mom’s ashes in it, and it reminds me every day that she’s always with me,” Gibbs said.
Although the memories of those lost had a prominent role in the gathering, the represented Wilson County communities wanted the night to be one of camaraderie and joy. Laughter and smiles were shared along with stories of hope and love.
A variety of events took place throughout the night, including a children’s triathlon, a live auction and a performance by the Evermean Evergreen Cloggers.
More than $57,000 was raised toward the $100,000 goal, which will be donated to the American Cancer Society to continue the fight against the disease.
More information about cancer and the community of supporters can be found at cancer.org or relayforlife.org.