'Showing a lot of love': Relay raises millions to fight cancer

LAWRENCEVILLE - It's not just a clever name thought up for the sake of the track cancer survivors walk around, or the all-night party that makes a 1,600-meter relay look like a breeze. It's a metaphor.

Relay for Life is a constant awareness of the fight against cancer, and at its annual manifestation at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, thousands of people came out to encourage those afflicted, remember those who had fallen to it and support those doing everything they can to find a cure.

More than 10,000 people filled the fairgrounds Friday night and into Saturday morning, raising upward of $2.2 million for the American Cancer Society. Gwinnett organizers claim it's the biggest Relay in the world - in terms of people in attendance, cancer survivors, money raised and even physical space.

"It's really all about a whole bunch of people showing a lot of love to cancer survivors," Co-chair Duane Downs said. "There are more survivors, more family here, more people who want to bless them."

Angela Calvert, who has sarcoma of the uterus, was attending the event for the second year. She said the Relay was the "most awesome event" she's ever been to and that she's never felt more honored and more cared for than she did during the opening survivors' lap, when volunteers line the track and cheer survivors on.

"You see all these people who have cancer and all the support everybody gives them, how much they are cared for," she said. "It goes beyond my comprehension, that people care so much."

In addition to the money raised - and often, to raise more - there is fun. Karaoke booths, concessions, glow necklaces and games were available at many of the tents, and entertainment in the form of dances and bands continued through the night. Volunteer Cynthie Annie Gregory described the Relay as a Disney World for adults.

And if it was Disney-like, there were people walking around in costumes. Becca Jones, representing the Gwinnett County Public Library, was dressed as Mrs. Potts from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. Lucy Ceraso, also known as Dotty Lu, came to the Relay in her clown outfit with her grandchildren, Bailey and McClendon Driggers, performing tricks alongside her.

There was Mardi Gras in Gwinnett, a luau, a booth featuring penguins. And among them all, a common theme: We can fight cancer.

Lacie Smith, 20, came to the Relay as the founder of Queens for a Cure, a group that distributed 200 crowns and sashes to cancer survivors. Smith said she formed the group three years ago after losing both of her grandfathers to cancer in the same year.

Stacey Smith, one of the queens, said entering the pageant was a way to funnel her grief after losing her father to cancer into something useful.

"I love giving survivors the royal treatment; they deserve it," she said. "It was the right thing for me to do for him. It helped me deal with my grief."

Tammy Hook summed up many people's sentiments after wandering around the grounds.

"It's incredible this many people are here, all for one cause," she said.

Barrow County also held its Relay for Life this weekend. Organizer Victoria Patrick said more than 2,000 people attended the event, and the group collected more than $235,000.