Upshur Relay for Life celebrates 20 years of fighting cancer

BUCKHANNON — The first Upshur County Relay was Life was put together in a few weeks time in 1998.
Now, the work for one Relay begins as soon as the previous one ends and teams fundraise all year long.
After 20 years of Relay for Life in Upshur, there are still some original participants but many new faces have joined the fight against cancer.
On Saturday, Upshur County Relay for Life held its 20th event, this time at Jawbone Park for the second year in a row, and celebrated with the theme of “Roarin’ 20 Years and Going Strong.”
By the night’s conclusion, $60,696.89 cents had been raised for the American Cancer Society putting the event over two-thirds of its $80,000 goal. Money can still be turned into any Relay for Life committee or team member until Aug. 21 to count for this year’s total, according to event lead Linda Wolfe.
When Helen Burnside started with Relay alongside her sister-in-law Crystal Shaw,  and other family members, she said Relay helped them get through those diagnosis of family members.
Several years later, Burnside became a cancer survivor herself when she was diagnosed with cancer.
“Again, Relay helped me get through that,” she said.  “Relay is a family of caregivers and survivors. We celebrate the survivors and remember the ones who have passed. Relay means so much to me that it would be hard to give it up.”
Shaw served as co-chair for the first event, chaired later Relays and has been involved in the event leadership for the last 20 years.
She found a purpose in Relay for Life to help her deal with the loss of her mother to cancer and formed the Inlaws and Outlaws team with her family.
“As a caregiver who lost the person she was giving care to, it was a way to heal,” Shaw said.  “They were there for us as a family,” she said. “Our family has been here at Relay in some shape or form every year we have had Relay. It has helped us as a family to come together for a common cause.  My sister has been there beside me and Helen.”
Now Crystal has a new reason to Relay since her husband Terry’s cancer diagnosis.
Terry came to Relay and planned to walk all night as a way to promote early screenings which have helped him have a good prognosis, Shaw said.
Jerri Eskew joined Relay for Life in 1999 the year after it started at the urging of Shaw.
“I was still taking chemo at the time,” she said.
But Eskew asked friends at West Virginia Wesleyan College, her church and family  to come together and form Team Hope.
That first year when so many of her friends and family came out and walked with her is Eskew’s favorite memory.
Nineteen years later, Eskew and her team are still part of Relay for Life.
“I’ve got 10 little great-nieces and nephews and I want them to grow up in a world without cancer,” she said. “I do everything I can to help.”
Ruth Hissam has been a long-time team member and is a cancer survivor.
Being a part of the team and seeing how enthusiastic everyone was into it has kept her involved as a way to fight back against the disease.
“I try to do my best to collect money and walk,” she said.
Elsie Carpenter joined the team in 2000 after facing her own cancer diagnosis at the same time as Eskew in 1999.
At the same time that Carpenter was going through her battle with cancer, her sister Louise, had been fighting the battle for four years and lost.
Carpenter heard about the Relay for Life and decided to join.
“Ruth said we had a good time,” she said. Since then, Carpenter said she comes and participates as much as she can. She crochets butterflies with the proceeds going to Relay for Life.
Throughout the evening, Relay for Life participants walked the block around Jawbone and sold raffle chances and concessions to raise extra money for the cause.
At dark, the luminaria ceremony was held to remember those who lost their fight with cancer and honor those still fighting.
Speaker and committee member Daisy Hunt said, “I encourage you to stay strong in this fight until we are the winners and there is no more cancer anywhere in this world.”
After the final lap of 2017, Relay for Life drew to a close.  
Rev. Ralph Miller, whose cancer has been in remission since 2011, opened the evening and closed the evening.
“As a cancer survivor myself, I learned early on to put my faith and trust in God,” he said.
But Miller also noted the excitement of those who participated in the Relay activities and how they pulled together.
“I can feel the love and feel the commitment towards one another,” he said.  “We are one big family and we are all children of God. We all have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for our loved ones and to do something to fight this fight. It is a battle and I keep praying they will find a cure for cancer.”
All team members are invited to Relay wrap-up to be held Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Chapel Hill UMC. Awards will be given and the final total raised for 2017 will be announced.
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