DENHAM SPRINGS — Cheers, claps and words of encouragement and support accompanied about 40 cancer survivors as they made their way around the specially marked lap path on the Denham Springs High School football field as the annual Livingston Parish Relay for Life got underway Friday.
Participants in the lap followed a banner that read, “Survivors Celebrating Life,” and the sign epitomized the spirit of the evening’s activities. Booths surrounding the field served as headquarters for the 18 teams who entered lap walkers earning pledged funds for each lap they walked. Many of the booths also offered food and other items for donations.
All the funds raised at the Relay for Life were donated to the American Cancer Society for use in Livingston Parish and for research into ways to prevent and treat cancer in its many forms.
Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey, who made the opening speech at Relay for Life, said cancer “touches all of us … there are no exceptions. If you don’t have cancer, then you know of a family member or friend who has been sickened by this terrible disease. It’s wonderful to see so many out here tonight doing what they can as we seek to win the battle against cancer.”
Sarah Gibson, community manager for the American Cancer Society of Livingston Parish, said her group had set a goal to raise $30,000 at Relay for Life. Gibson said that while it will be some time before all the monies raised at Relay for Life are counted, she felt comfortable that the goal would be met.
The Relay for Life Event Leadership team does all the planning for the event, Gibson said, adding that the group meets twice a month throughout the year to assure the success of Relay for Life.
Much of the emphasis at the Livingston Parish event was focused on cancer survivors. Survivors were given T-shirts, treated to dinner on the grounds by Sombrero’s Restaurant, and were placed in the spotlight when they made their march around the lap trail.
Annie Leah McMorris, of Denham Springs, said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on April 15, 2005. After undergoing treatment, including chemotherapy, she was finally declared cancer-free.
“It’s been 11 years now, and I’m doing fine,” she said. “I am grateful for the medical care I got here in Baton Rouge.”
Her husband, Claude McMorris, who described himself as “a caretaker,” said his wife “survived because of Jesus Christ and prayer. … People all over the place were praying for her.”
Besides her husband, McMorris had two granddaughters, her son, daughter-in-law and great-grandson at Relay for Life to support her.
Sitting at the same table with the McMorris couple at the Survivors’ Dinner was Janice Parrino, also of Denham Springs, who said she had three bouts with breast cancer. In 2004 she underwent radiation for the condition and was declared cancer free until it returned in 2013. This time she underwent chemotherapy and eventually had to have a mastectomy. “I’m still here … I’m a survivor,” she said.
Buddy Mincey, now in his third term as a member of the Livingston Parish School Board, said he was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago and was told that the cancer was very serious. He was treated at Baton Rouge General Hospital, underwent chemotherapy, had numerous surgeries and “went through a lot … but I’m cured now.
“I think the Relay for Life is a great event. It’s encouraging to meet other survivors and to see the support that so many of our parish residents are giving to fighting the battle against cancer.”
His wife, Michelle Mincey, said that as a caretaker of a cancer victim, she is dedicated to Relay for Life. A teacher at Seventh Ward Elementary, Mincey sponsors a walking team of fellow faculty members and students. The theme of her team’s booth was “Kissing Cancer Goodbye.” For a donation, patrons were given candy kisses.
Leonard Verbois, of Walker, said he has endured prostate, colon and skin cancer. He said 10 inches of his colon was removed and then he had a recurrence of the skin cancer. “That all started 15 years ago, and I had the colon cancer five years ago. But I survived all of it. I was treated at the Mary Bird Cancer Center. I come to Relay for Life every year to show my support,” Verbois said.
Mary Cambre, of Denham Springs, said she survived Hodgkin’s disease through treatment at Baton Rouge hospitals and continues to support Relay for Life because of the importance of continuing to help cancer victims and support research into the disease.
Relay for Life depends on volunteers and those helpers come in all ages. A group of elementary students from Southside Elementary worked during the school year to raise funds for Relay for Life. Fifth-grader Madalyn Harris, who was helping in a booth sponsored by the group, said that her team sold frozen treats at school to raise money.
“We did this because we know some kids who have had cancer and we want to support them,” she said. “We know it’s a good cause and that’s why we are involved.”
The students wore matching T-shirts to show their involvement in Relay for Life.
The evening’s events featured an annual highlight, the Lighting of Luminaria Ceremony, at 9:30 p.m. Patrons of Relay for Life purchased the luminarias — candles placed in special containers — in remembrance of cancer victims. The flickering candles in the dimmed stadium were a reminder of the toll that cancer takes in every community.
Live entertainment was a part of the evening’s Relay for Life, and this year’s event closed with music and dancing.
Gibson said the annual event was successful because of so many Livingston Parish residents who are willing to take the time and make the effort to do what they can to be a part of the treatment and hoped for eventual eradication of cancer.