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Fighting Cancer One Hope at a Time

June 24, 2012

Lanterns line the track for the NEK Relay for Life at North Country High School Saturday night. Photo by Christopher Roy

NEWPORT CITY – More than 400 individuals camped out at North Country Union High School Saturday evening for one common cause, to take part in the annual Northeast Kingdom Relay for Life and raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Imagine a World with No Cancer was this year’s theme.  
Most participants were part of teams comprised of co-workers, friends and family members who were all part of one big family for 12 hours. They ate together, walked together and shared stories. They also laughed and cried together. 
Relay for Life is one of the American Cancer Society’s largest fundraisers, said Karrie Briggs, one of three chairs for the local event. Briggs said that behind the United States Government the American Cancer Society is the second largest contributor to cancer research. 
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Briggs. “It’s more than an event; it’s an experience. People get very personally attached to this event and for what it represents. Celebrate, remember and fight back. It gives people a purpose. Save lives faster.”
Many of the participants took part in theme laps that included dressing up in duck tape and costumes. Opening ceremonies included cancer survivors walking in one direction and caregivers walking in the opposite direction. When they met, both groups mixed and returned to the starting point together. Just before sunset, volunteers lit candles in small bags that lined up the track. Names on each bag were of those who died or survived cancer. At 9 p.m., volunteers read the names.
There were activities for children and raffles that included a motorcycle. Members of the Newport City Fire Department donated $2,056. Each city firefighter contributed money out of his or her salary for the donation. 
The purpose of staying up all night is simple: To see what a cancer patient goes through from diagnosis to the darkest hours of treatment to the dawn of beating cancer.
Each person had his or her own personal reason for attending the relay. Tammy Smith of Newport City, a cancer survivor since 1999, wanted to help raise money. “If you don’t know someone, you are someone,” said Smith, trying to hold back tears. She said there’s a lot of love between people, a lot of sorrow and closeness. “It’s being a part of something that’s bigger than  myself. If  I can help one person, this is all worth it.”
Carrie Descheneau attended the relay with her daughter Kayla. Carrie said her other daughter, Karissa, is a cancer survivor. Carrie and Kayla Descheneau were sporting “Live Strong” tattoos, partially in the color of ink that matches the color of Karissa’s birthstone. “Live strong for my daughter,” is the meaning of the tattoos.
“I’m at a loss of words when it comes to tonight,” said Carrie . “I’m just here for everybody.”
“It’s nice to see everyone come together to raise money to find a cure for cancer,” said Jim French of Springfield, MA, who is moving to Newport and is a second time cancer survivor. “I just had to be here.”
East Montpelier resident Richard Swenson, a two-time Hodgkin’s disease Survivor, was this year’s speaker. He spoke about his battle, which began at the age of 15. Swenson celebrated 10 years of being a cancer survivor in May. 
Swenson learned he had the disease April 1 of that year. He said he came home and found his father crying, something he wasn’t sure how to take. Swenson called Relay for Life an unexplainable event that one has to experience to understand. “You don’t let it beat you,” said Swenson of cancer. “You beat it.”

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