Relay participants release lanterns for friends, family
VIDALIA — Friday night, a piece of Paige James’ fighting spirit floated in the night sky, burning fiercely with hundreds of sky lanterns bearing the names of other cancer survivors.
James, a Monterey resident, was diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine’s Day last year, and seven months later, she’s fought her way to a cancer-free diagnosis.
“It made me thankful for things I have and taught me not to take anything for granted,” James said. “Everyone should live every day like it’s their last.”
James joined other cancer survivors and Relay supporters on the Vidalia riverfront for the annual all-night Miss-Lou Relay for Life fundraiser.
“The best part of it is just coming out and knowing there are this many survivors here,” James said.
Eyes lifted to the sky as flame-filled sky lanterns were released from the hands of family members in honor of a lost loved ones, friends and survivors during Relay’s luminary ceremony.
Stine Lumber’s Relay team purchased a lantern for James to release at the ceremony. Stine team member Dora Emfinger watched as James wept when she released the lantern.
“It was almost like she was letting that piece of her life go,” Emfinger said.
The first lantern in the air was lit by Team Metro in memory of Monterey resident Sue Foreman. Foreman’s friend Lillian Pugh said Foreman dressed up every Halloween and made the holiday special for Pugh’s grandson.
Pugh’s son and Team Metro captain Trenton Pugh lit a lantern in honor of his sister, Teri Pugh Wilson, with the help of Wilson’s children, Reed Wilson and Savannah Cowan, and Cowan’s boyfriend, Casey Sayes. Teri Wilson is a breast cancer survivor.
“Coming out here you really see that it affects a lot of people,” Cowan said. “When we first found out my mom got sick, I was young, and I didn’t really know anything about it. But now I can see how it really affects everyone’s lives.”
A steady crowd circled the Relay track around torches and paper bag luminaries lit in honor of survivors and lost loved ones. But as the night wore on, the unseasonably cool weather had some Relayers packing it in before the 4 a.m. closing ceremonies, but Team Metro and others stuck it out.
“You feed off everybody’s energy,” Trenton said standing underneath Team Metro’s jungle-themed tent. “It’s a lot of work, but that’s how you make it all night.
“And we see this as an uplifting day to honor our survivors.”
Emfinger said she reminds herself that cancer never sleeps when she gets tired during the wee hours of the morning during Relay.
“By staying up all night, you almost make it inconvenient for yourself not to be reminded that there is no cure for cancer right now,” she said.
And finding a cure is what it is all about, Emfinger said.
“It’s just really great to see everyone out here for such a good cause,” she said.
Relay for Life Chair Sherry Kiser said as of 2 a.m. Saturday morning, Relay had raised $190,777.
Kiser said it was heartwarming to see the crowds of people brave the cold and mud to support the cause and honor those lost to cancer and survivors.
“Cancer survivors don’t get to stop their treatment because of bad weather, they still have to deal with the chemo and radiation and sickness … and for one night we thought ‘The show must go on; we have to do it for them,’” Kiser said.