Relay for Life kicks off already halfway to $225,000 goal

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

David Phelps

The Natchez Democrat

T he Miss-Lou Relay for Life started its long walk Friday night with close to 50 teams dedicated to going all night in an effort to further cancer research.

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Organizers said they were more than halfway toward their $225,000 goal before the walk even started, thanks to early fundraising efforts by the teams.

&8220;We started with $137,000 and we were at $157,000 by 8:15,&8221; Relay For Life Committee co-chair Julia Drews said.

Judging from the array of food, games and toys &8212; including the white-hot marshmallow shooter &8212; available for purchase, that goal seemed imminently achievable.

All proceeds from the event go to the American Cancer Society.

Survivors on hand said they were touched by the public support and dedication.

&8220;I feel blessed,&8221; Survivor Wanda Durham of Ridgecrest said. &8220;The way this community supports this is fantastic.&8221;

Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell said agreed.

&8220;This is the one event every year where everyone from both sides of the river comes,&8221; he said. &8220;Everyone&8217;s fighting this fight together and they do a super job.&8221;

Oncologist Jack Rodriguez and his office fielded a team for the relay. He said the public support was gratifying to all those who work in the medical field.

&8220;It&8217;s an issue that affects all of us and to see everyone come together is really neat.&8221;

He said all of the purple-shirted survivors in the crowd were proof that technology was working to raise the odds of beating cancer and that events like this really work.

&8220;I love seeing my patients in a non-hospital setting,&8221; he said.

The enthusiastic participation of teams from the area&8217;s hospitals and other medical-related businesses wasn&8217;t just a matter of business, either.

&8220;We have so many people who see the effects of cancer every day,&8221; Natchez Regional spokeswoman Kay Ketchings said. &8220;Who come out here and watch the survivors and their families walk and not get teary-eyed? This is special.&8221;

Tim Trottier, CEO of Natchez Community Hospital, said it was therapeutic, as well.

&8220;It&8217;s a chance for our employees to give back directly and goes a long way to building good morale,&8221; Natchez Community Hospital CEO Jim Trottier said.

As for morale through the night, the prognosis was unclear. At least one member of each team, however, was to stay on the track at all times in order to qualify for the various awards.

Not all in the purple-clad crowd were out of the woods yet, however.

You&8217;d never think to look at Army Sgt. First Class Eldon Williams, that he was 16 months in to an 18-month life expectancy.

Williams was stationed in Korea when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. It spread to his liver, and doctors didn&8217;t hold out much hope.

He credits not missing his chemotherapy sessions and the skill of the army doctors with his healthy, 225-pound frame.

&8220;Twelve months ago I got out of the hospital, and I weighed 144 pounds,&8221; he said.

&8220;The cancer&8217;s still there, but it&8217;s smaller than it was, so I feel pretty good.&8221;

Williams and a friend and fellow survivor, Jerry Clabaugh, drove over from Killeen, Texas just for the relay.

Clabaugh&8217;s stepdaughter, Charlene Rushing of Vidalia, is a survivor and he said they made the trip to cheer her on.

He suffers from skin cancer himself but said he &8220;feels like a cheater&8221; compared to his friend.

&8220;Now this guy is tough.&8221;