Residents gather for annual late night cancer fight at Relay for Life

Published 1:07 am Saturday, May 7, 2016

NATCHEZ — Hundreds gathered in Vidalia Friday evening for the annual Relay for Life fundraiser.

Emotions flooded the grassy field along with the volunteers who walked to raise money for a cure for cancer.

Cancer survivor Paige Welch gave a speech at the beginning of the event to commemorate her 10th year of being cancer-free.

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“Thanks to events like this one that raise money for cancer research, I’m here today,” she said. “In the past 10 years, I’ve gotten to do some amazing things. I got my life back … Together, we can paint the world purple.”

Another cancer survivor, Gerry Ellis, was able to take a walk around the field with her daughter, Tass Washington, who cared for her during her illness.

Washington was only 12 years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. She said having a normal middle school life was a challenge, but her family made it possible.

“It was hard,” Washington said. “But I was able to go and visit her, and family members would pick me up from (cheerleading) practice so I could go and visit her.”

Ellis said she was glad to be able to share the event with her daughter, so many years later.

“It does wonders for me,” Ellis said. “I’ve come a long way. This relay really helps me because it’s showing how much people care about you, and how people are fighting cancer out there. I look forward to it every year. I don’t miss it.”

Another relay attendee, 2-year-old Rhett Wiggins, has never missed a relay. He wore an orange T-shirt Friday with, “I relay for my Granna” emblazoned on the front and “I relay for my daddy” on the back.

Rhett’s mother, Emily Wiggins, said her mother passed away from cancer in 2010, but her husband is a survivor.

Rhett’s 3-year-old cousin, Laken Robertson, said she enjoys coming to relay to spend time with friends and family, but knows exactly what her favorite part of relay is.

“Getting ice cream!” she said, licking her multicolored treat.

Relay for Life Committee co-chair Janis Holder said the event has evolved and grown since she became involved in 1995.

“My boss was in charge of it in 1995,” she said. “That was the first year in Natchez. He asked me to head up bike night, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Her boss — and friend — later died from cancer.

“You have to have a passion for it,” she said.

Passion isn’t lacking in the area. Most of the area’s 45 teams raise money year-round, not just on the night of the event.

Holder said event is an opportunity to celebrate the team’s successes, honor those who survived cancer and remember those who the community lost.

“It’s just a good cause,” Holder said. “It’s a community turning out to help each other.”