Focused on Life
Thousands turn out for annual event to fight cancer

LAWRENCEVILLE - Overcoming breast cancer has given Lisa Coleman pause when life's inconveniences test her patience.

Case in point: when she was on her way to Gwinnett's Relay For Life event at the fairgrounds Friday afternoon, Coleman, 53, was involved in a slight fender-bender.

"Somebody hit me in back," said Coleman, a Lawrenceville resident. "I didn't get upset. The girl got out and apologized. And I said, 'Hey, it's OK.' I didn't get upset. Like I say, don't sweat the small stuff. I don't let things get under my skin anymore. I just enjoy life."

Friday's event was the embodiment of Coleman's new-found attitude: A nexus of thousands of lives affected by cancer, yet with the feel of a county fair on a warm summer evening in which fear lurked somewhere else. At each tent, walkathon participants wore T-shirts with crafty slogans, some of which - "May the Cure be with You" seemed to be a hit - were politely borrowed from pop icons.

Organizers expect to raise about $2.6 million, making Gwinnett's Relay For Life event the largest and most lucrative in the nation. Funds go to cancer research, education, advocacy and patient service programs sponsored by the American Cancer Society. It is the largest source of nongovernmental cancer research funding in the U.S. with nearly half a billion dollars in grants in effect, officials said.

With onlookers applauding from the sidelines, more than 2,000 survivors and caretakers walked a survivor lap on a route around the fairgrounds. Katie Durham, an American Cancer Society volunteer and cancer survivor, proudly held a sign that read "There's No Such Thing as a Small Change" as she walked with her husband, Jimmy, also a survivor.

"I just love seeing all these people out here," she said.

Strolling the grounds, as young and old talked, played, ate and hugged, there were solemn reminders of cancer's devastation: White paper bags - carrying the names of aunts, mothers, fathers, sons and friends - to be lit in remembrance of lives cut short.

Joined by a childhood buddy, Drew Reinas, 19, planned to walk in memory of his father, Keith Reinas, who died from esophageal cancer in March. He said his dad was well-known among the kids in his neighborhood, coaching many of them in baseball and football.

"They gave him three to six months to live and he lived two-and-a-half years with it," Reinas said of his father. "It's great to see that they're raising money to help people keep surviving (cancer).

"Just because people pass on, it's great to see them still trying to find the cure for everybody else."

The overnight walkathon is scheduled to wrap-up at 10 a.m. today.