Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Lung cancer survivor Alison Miller blows a kiss to one of her supporters and caregivers during the survivor’s lap of the 2014 MIss-Lou Relay for Life at the Vidalia Riverfront.  Mark Welch, below, was under the guise of a superhero during his lap around the track.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Lung cancer survivor Alison Miller blows a kiss to one of her supporters and caregivers during the survivor’s lap of the 2014 MIss-Lou Relay for Life at the Vidalia Riverfront. Mark Welch, below, was under the guise of a superhero during his lap around the track.

Survivors, residents gather to celebrate at Relay for Life

Published 12:01am Saturday, May 3, 2014

NATCHEZ — Mary Malone has lived through cancer twice, and Friday night she had only one response to the experience.

She was going to celebrate living.

A survivor of a 2011 colon cancer that returned in 2013, Malone is now in remission, and the Fayette resident made her way to the Vidalia Riverfront Friday to walk proud in the survivor’s lap at Relay for Life.

“I see this as a happy time,” she said. “It just feels joyful here.”

Malone was surrounded by 53 teams Friday participating in Relay, which is an annual nightlong vigil that serves as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

The Miss-Lou Relay for Life began in 1996, offering cancer survivors like Malone a chance to celebrate life.

Malone didn’t always feel that joy when it came to thinking about her cancer.

“When I found out the first time, it was a shock,” she said. “I went numb, and I started shaking and praying.”

After only a short while, however, she was in remission. The news was welcome.

“When they told me that, I thanked God,” Malone said. “I was screaming with happiness.”

But two years later, the hard news hit her again. That time, it was accompanied with quiet despair. The doctors removed her colon and she received 12 rounds of anti-cancer treatment.

It wasn’t easy.

“I laid there and asked ‘Why me?” Malone said.

“Finally, I said, ‘God brought me through this before, he will bring me through it again.’”

And surrounded by her family and friends through the thick and thin of it — and bolstered by her faith — Malone did pull through it again.

Now, she feels as alive as ever, and when her friend Edna Carter — another cancer survivor — told her about Relay for Life this year, Malone said she knew it was something she wanted to do.

Carter — a 10-year thyroid cancer survivor — walked with Malone. For her, the march around the track is symbolic of what it means to be a survivor.

“I introduce as many of my friends as I can to Relay,” she said. “I look at being a survivor as I am taking it one day at a time, one step at a time.”

Throughout the night, participants — some survivors, others those whose lives have been affected by someone else’s cancer — walk around a track in memory of those who have died or in support of those who have survived or are being treated for cancer.

Teams collect money throughout the year. Miss-Lou Relay for Life co-chair Janis Holder said 53 teams participated in Relay fundraising, and 45 of those teams had representation on the site Friday night.

“We are $0.79 short of $200,000 this year, which will make almost $3 million we have raised here since 1996,” Holder said. “We really want to get that $3 million mark.”

The Markets  team was recognized with an award before the survivor’s lap for their work in raising the most money in the event’s history. The team has raised nearly $227,000 in the past 18 years.

For Butch and Clara Graves, Relay is a march to remember a brush with cancer and a life stolen by it.

Just months after losing their daughter, Donna Graves Hampton, to cancer, Butch was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Butch’s cancer was treated with radioactive seed transplants and he hasn’t had any problems since then, but the experience of losing one family member just before having another undergo treatment for cancer makes Relay a deeply personal matter for them, Clara said.

“We do this every year,” Butch said. “Every way we can, we try to help with it.”

Participants at the site began walking at 6 p.m. and were expected to continue until 4 a.m. this morning.