HAZARD — The Perry County Park turned purple Saturday, as crowds of people gathered throughout the day to support Relay for Life. The annual Relay for Life ceremony began 16 years ago to honor cancer survivors in the community and pay tribute to those, who lost their lives because of the disease. Today, the event stands as, not merely a method of raising money for a charity, but also as a fellowship service where the living share hope and compassion with each other amidst the lingering spirits of loved ones, who have passed on.
Tents representing various relay teams lined the inner circle of the park’s walking track. The atmosphere filled with the hearty aroma of various grills, preparing food that was befitting of a summer’s day. Local musicians gave the festivities a pulse, as they showcased their skills on stage. The event truly reflected a celebration of life.
“I think Perry County’s Relay stands out because we are so family oriented,” said Kendra Dixon, organizer of the Family First/Our Roots Run Deep relay team.
Dixon came up with the idea of raising money for cancer research through the Family First relay team by selling T-shirts with the names of cancer survivors printed on them. The shirts were designed by Wilhelmina Fugate. She did not have to search far to find candidates for the first printing. Within her own family, cancer has touched Dixon’s mother and her brother, Earnest Maggard, who is continuing his battle right now. Earnest’s name is honored on the shirt, as is one of Dixon’s coworkers at A.B. Combs Elementary, Marilyn Wooton, who is celebrating continued life with family and friends after a long battle against cancer.
Kendra Dixon has discovered that a common belief about cancer really is true. Cancer has touched every family in some way. Dixon’s friend, Renee Farris, immediately connected with the Family First idea and added the name of her granddaughter, Isabella Brashear, to the shirt. The Perry County community joined together in prayer when 5-year old Bella received her leukemia diagnosis and the community rejoiced when the doctors declared her battle was won. Another one of Dixon’s coworkers, Janice Whitaker, was moved by the sentiment behind the Family First idea. Whitaker’s daughter, Maggie Duff, endured a treacherous battle against breast cancer at the age of 29, which she won despite a grim prognosis. Maggie became one of the survivors honored on the Family First shirt.
Numerous relay teams in Perry County work hard throughout the year to help raise awareness and fund research for a cure. However, the annual Relay for Life event in the park shows what truly sets Perry County apart from many other places. Perry County’s sense of community runs deep. Along the walking track, the names and pictures of friends we lost to cancer were seen. People passing by could not help but stop and pay their respects.
“I wish we didn’t have to do these kinds of fundraisers,” Kendra Dixon said, after the Relay for Life event was over, “It would be wonderful if there was a cure and we didn’t have to worry about cancer anymore. But we do have to do these things, and I have to say it is a really nice experience with all things considered. When I was leaving, I looked back at the park from the high school bridge and I could see all of the luminaries lit up. It was a day to remember. There was a lot of laughter and there was some crying too.”
The American Society of Clinical Oncology predicted in a 2014 study that cancer will eventually overthrow heart disease as the number one killer of people in America, unless more research is conducted. The work of volunteers with Relay for Life is a treasure to our community. Relay for Life Perry County can be contacted by searching Relay for Life, Perry Co. Kentucky on Facebook.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.