The scores of survivors who walk the first lap are probably the biggest reason so many people and businesses in the community give so generously — from supporters of 12-year-old Regen Morris, who is battling brain cancer, to Sevierville Mayor Bryan Atchley, who is currently cancer free but lost his wife, Cherie, to the disease before battling it himself.
The mayor recalled attending a Relay a few years ago to hand out medals to survivors, not suspecting he’d become a much more direct participant not long after. “I thought I’d participated,” he said. Two months later, “It really hit home. I had my wife in the ER and I heard those words.”
“I stand here before you tonight, cancer-free,” he told the crowd.
As the opening ceremony went on, Donna Fetterman was standing off to the side. She had come from Cleveland, Ohio, to release the ashes of her mother, Edna Hall, in the area where she had lived for 17 years.
Hall survived ovarian cancer for 51 years before it returned and claimed her life. Fetterman said she hadn’t planned to come down the same weekend as Relay. “It’s just a coincidence, I didn’t know this was happening. I just think it’s incredible the way that worked out.”
Both are cancer survivors —LaFollette has had it three times in 35 years, and when McGaha was diagnosed 31 years ago her doctors gave her a couple of years go live.
They both attribute their survival to prayer and to positive attitudes.
“I told them I plan to live to be 100,” LaFollette said. “I think with any illness your chances are better if you’re optimistic.”
The event was also dedicated to Randy Henderson, the teacher and youth minister who died while participating in last years’ ceremonies.
Dozens of tents lined Patriot Park, mostly representing teams that have raised money as part of the event for the American Cancer Society. Money might be given to honor a survivor or remember a lost loved one, but the funds are used to fuel new research to help continue the fight.
Mourning the lost, celebrating and inspiring the survivors, and raising money so that we can keep finding better treatment and cures — that’s what Relay for Life is all about.
The event continues through 6 p.m. today at Patriot Park.