'Relay' raises tidy sum for cancer research

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Families touched by cancer gathered at Woodland High School in Stockbridge to literally take a step toward finding a cure for the dreaded disease.

The annual Henry County Relay for Life kicked off at the school Friday evening, beginning with a dinner in the school cafeteria at 5 p.m., followed by the "Survivors Lap" around the track at 7 p.m.

The Henry County cancer-fighting campaign raised more than $352,000 for cancer research, according to Carri Halcome, one of the organizers of the event.

Two of those who lined up with the other walkers Friday for the start of the Survivors Lap were Barbara Barnes, of Stockbridge, and Velma Wilkerson, of McDonough.

Barnes said she had several reasons why she laced up her sneakers and participated. "I am a cancer survivor, and I'm also walking for my mother and father, who both passed from cancer," said Barnes. "I'm walking for my friends who have cancer and are survivors, and I'm walking for her [Velma Wilkerson's] husband, who just passed away not too long ago."

A survivor of melanoma, Barnes, 57, was diagnosed with cancer in 1990. Doctors had to cut the cancerous tissue away, she said. "It was in my knee, underneath my kneecap," said Barnes. "They got every bit of it, which I was glad for. I didn't have to have chemo or radiation."

Huge crowds turned out for the event Friday and Saturday, and after the first lap was completed, participants continued to walk around the track. Some slept overnight in tents, which lined the inside of the track.

Wilkerson, 72, said she is a 12-year survivor of breast cancer. "My husband passed away last year with kidney cancer," she said.

After she initially was diagnosed with cancer, she said, she underwent a number of treatments. "I had 38 radiation treatments, and you do a lot of follow-ups," she said. "You're never totally out of the woods."

She said the most important reason for participating in the relay is to be "in support of other people, and hope to find a cure."

Wilkerson stressed the need for continued cancer research. " It's very important, because thousands of people die every year from some type of cancer," she added.

The event concluded Saturday, with the last lap at 7 a.m.