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Gwinnett Relay participants party, join in cancer research study

Thousands participate in Relay for Life on May 5-6 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.


Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Merle Griffin, 76, and her husband Charles Griffin, 75, both of Clarkston were among the the thousands who participated in the "Purple Hand Dance" during in the annual Gwinnett County Relay for Life at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville on Friday. Merle is a 10 1/4 year pancreatic cancer survivor and Charles is a 15 1/2 year prostate cancer survivor.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Merle Griffin, 76, and her husband Charles Griffin, 75, both of Clarkston were among the the thousands who participated in the "Purple Hand Dance" during in the annual Gwinnett County Relay for Life at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville on Friday. Merle is a 10 1/4 year pancreatic cancer survivor and Charles is a 15 1/2 year prostate cancer survivor.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Cancer Survivors circle the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in the "Survivor Lap" during the Gwinnett County Relay for Life in Lawrenceville on Friday.

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Gwinnett Relay for Life 2012

Thousands participate in Relay for Life on May 5-6 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

Thousands participate in Relay for Life on May 5-6 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Survivors circle the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in the "Survivor Lap" during the Gwinnett County Relay for Life in Lawrenceville on Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Thousands participate in the "Purple Hand Dance" during the Gwinnett County Relay for Life at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville on Friday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Jeannie Walters, right, 63, and her mother Tina Harris, 83, both of Snellville receive a butterfly fan while participating in the Gwinnett County Relay for Life at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville on Friday. Walters is a survivor of breast cancer.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan An aerial view of the thousands who participated in the Gwinnett County Relay for Life at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville on Friday.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Everything at Gwinnett County Relay for Life is a reminder that cancer's hand has touched nearly everyone. The giant inflatables and elaborate displays put on by local high schools, loud music blaring triumphant lyrics, the smell of hot dogs and barbecue wafting through the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds -- all of it was there Friday night because of the fight with and against cancer.

Millions of dollars are donated each year. Thousands upon thousands show up to party for the cure, and to loudly celebrate more birthdays.

The local impact of cancer, though, was most poignant Friday under a quiet tent somehow isolated from the boisterous shenanigans around it. A steady stream of adults signed up, waited in line and visited handfuls of trained professionals in teal scrubs under that tent.

For the first time ever, Gwinnett Relay was chosen to participate in a national cancer prevention study. Only about an hour into Friday's event, one volunteer estimated more than 100 visitors had already participated. The goal was 500.

"This is a great effort," said Buford resident Melody Saputo, whose son is a survivor. "Along with all of the fun things that we've got going on, we're actually doing something that helps with the research (directly)."

At Relay, participants ages 30 through 65 with no personal history of cancer signed up for the study called CPS-3 by filling out a brief survey and giving a small amount of blood. For the foreseeable future, they'll be mailed surveys every few years to update researchers on things like their lifestyle habits and health problems.

Greg Purves of Lawrenceville joined up because his wife is a survivor.

"I don't want anybody else to go through this," he said. "It's that simple."

The results of the nationwide research will be put to good use -- the original study from the American Cancer Society, CPS-1, produced the data that tied smoking to lung cancer.

"It's the perfect place to find people who are really committed to it because they have personal ties," said Lawrenceville resident Gabby Bray. Bray's husband and father have both had cancer.

Outside that tent, Mountain View High School's drum line led the emotional "survivor's lap" as onlookers clapped and cheered. For the third straight year, the group Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer led hundreds in the "purple glove dance," the masses donning purple latex gloves and coordinating hand motions to make a breathtaking video.

A special tribute was made to Dr. Gordy Klatt, Relay for Life's founder who recently announced he had been diagnosed with cancer himself.

Before Friday's event, Gwinett's Relay for Life website showed more than $1 million raised. The top-grossing American Cancer Society fundraiser in the world for 10 years running, Gwinnett's Relay has been known to double or nearly double its fundraising during the actual event.

All that money will go toward research and patient support programs. Some, of course, made an even more personal contribution to the cause.

"Years from now, they'll be able to tell more about the causes of the different types of cancers," Saputo said. "I think it's well worth the effort. I want to make it possible for other people to have that same thing in their family -- not losing someone they love."