If hope could cure cancer, there would be none after Friday night’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

Tears of emotion were shed as survivors made the first lap in their purple shirts, carrying balloons. Spouses with arms around one another walking, men, women, children and people of all ages made the survivor lap, as cancer shows no favoritism.

American Cancer Society started Relay for Life not just as a fund-raiser, but to be a “unique activity that offers an opportunity to take up the fight. It is about empowering individuals to fight back against a disease that has taken so much from them.”

To that end, a spirit of fun and zaniness permeated the entire park. “A Night at the Oscars” theme lended well to nutty costumes, fun team names, super-creative campsites and the huge Hollywood sign on the big hill.

“Rhett and Scarlett” strolled the track arm in arm, while “lovelies” with names like Daisy, Bambi and Marie Leveau prissed and pranced the stage and the track. From early estimates, it is believed the night raised roughly $55,000 for cancer research.

Tony Maldonado took the crown from a bevy of “beauties” with hairy chests and arms, and a few who had shaved legs and armpits. For two hours, the contestants paraded around Fullerton-Garitty Park soliciting donations. “Miss Relay” Maldonado was crowned after managing to raise the most money for the American Cancer Society.

Guardian Industries’ team, galvanized by co-worker Matt Jenkins’ recent bout with brain cancer, took top honors for most laps, “Miss Relay” and most money raised by a team, with roughly $9,000 brought in for the cause.

Jenkins is a 33-year-old married father of two, employed by Guardian Industries.

“I was having vertigo real bad, feeling very dizzy,” Jenkins said. “They treated me for an inner ear disorder, and then I had trouble writing, or even using a pen. I finally had an MRI, and they found a tumor the size of an egg near my cerebellum.”

Jenkins had surgery Jan. 3, 2006 to remove the medulla blastoma, followed by 30 radiation treatments. He is scheduled to have the first of three chemotherapy treatments this week. The enthusiasm of so many of his co-workers from Guardian, all wearing shirts with his name, moved Jenkins greatly.

“It’s overwhelming — it feels weird, but it feels good at the same time,” he said. “The day I found out I had cancer, over 100 people called my house. I finally couldn’t take any more phone calls, I just laid in bed and cried. It was overwhelming how many people cared.”

In opening ceremonies, Cleita Ferrell, chairman of last year’s Relay, was crowned for her efforts. Evelyn Gassaway, 50-year cancer survivor, was crowned for being the longest cancer survivor in attendance. Many returning teams were represented, as well as new teams there for the first time.

“We’re the paparazzi,” said Gwen Brown of “The Press,” the team from Eastside Church of Christ. The church decorated with an old manual typewriter, and a baton with film and a camera attached. Homemade desserts were sold by the slice all night to raise more team funds.

“I’m determined that no daughter should ever have to miss her mother at Relay for Life again,” said Rowena Winfrey of “The Press.” “My mother passed away last summer from breast cancer, and I vowed I would be on a team and help raise money, so hopefully no other daughters will lose their mothers to cancer.”

Barry/Chatfield Methodist Church, longtime Relay participants, took the top non-profit fund-raising award for nearly $5,800. Best Campsite was the Emmanuel Baptist Church “Beverly Jillbillies.” with their vittles for sale, and baton with a dead possum on it.

Clear Signal Radio’s team won “Spirit of Relay” for accumulating the most points from attending meetings, and winning the most rounds of zany antics like the hula hoop lap.

“We had 20 teams this year, which is an official increase of four teams over last year,” said David Dickinson, 2006 event chairman. “We’re pleased about the turnout, and we’ve got a lot more decorating of campsites this year. We also turned over the food to the teams, which took (that burden) off the committee.

“Last year was our first year to have on-site fund-raising, and $21,000 was raised that night,” he said. “With the concession sales going toward the team totals, I have a feeling it will be even more this year.”

Folks were present not only from Corsicana, but also surrounding towns in the county.

“Two of David’s main goals were to get small towns involved, since this is county-wide, and to achieve more ethnic diversity,” said Abby Warnick with the American Cancer Society.

Sponsors for the 2006 event were Trinity Mother Frances Clinic, Casita, Navarro Regional Hospital, Micro Title, Chase Bank, Corsicana National Bank and Trust, McKee Hardware and Lumber, Guardian Industries and Corsicana Bedding. Other corporate sponsors were Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home, True Value, Wal-Mart, Brookshire’s/Ole Foods, C.L. Brown and Corsicana Police Officers Association. Special thanks went to City of Corsicana Parks and Recreation for the use of Fullerton-Garitty Park, Emmanuel Baptist church, Whataburger, Wal-Mart, CiCi’s Pizza and Papa John’s Pizza.

A Relay Wrap-up Party will be held at 6 p.m. May 30 at Emmanuel Baptist Church. To find out more about the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, or how you can be involved in the next one, show up for the meeting, or call 1-800-ACS-2345.

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Deanna Plemons may be reached via e-mail at deannap@corsicanadailysun.com.

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