Walkers look forward to a cure

Published April 4, 2007

It was like a big slumber party, with hundreds sprawled out across the athletic fields at St. Petersburg College. Only this party raised more than $36,000 for the fight against cancer.

The stories that the victims and families shared throughout the night Friday and into the morning were heartbreaking, and heroic.

Shalonda Granger, a 20-year-old veterinary technology student at SPC, shared her experience with bone cancer at age 5.

"I know how it feels to be a little girl with no hair on your head to put bows in or brush or comb into all the cute styles that a little girl should be able to wear," Granger told the crowd at Friday's Relay for Life event.

Granger's left thumb was amputated first, but when the cancer spread, she lost her arm up to just below her elbow. She remembers vividly the regular hospital stays and the schoolmate who ripped off the wig that covered her bald head.

"When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I had no idea what cancer was, but by the end of it all, I knew cancer all too well, and I knew more than anything that I hated it," she said.

"I hated how it made me feel, and I hated how it made me look."

Friday night, a steady stream of men, women and children walked, jogged, skated, rode in wheelchairs or were pushed in strollers around the Gibbs campus athletic field in west St. Petersburg.

Dawn Waechter, student activities coordinator for the Seminole campus, was there with more than a dozen students. The students raised $926.78 from the relay, bake sales, an aluminum can drive and other efforts.

"They were very passionate about this," Waechter said.

Organized into teams, participants set up tents and folding chairs around the track and settled in for the night. They sold packages of candy and glow sticks, pizza, oatmeal cookies, baked snacks, bottled water, jewelry and garage sale items. They sang. They stayed up until 9 a.m. the following day.

Relay for Life, an event replicated in hundreds of communities around the nation, was organized by the student group Colleges Against Cancer, with the American Cancer Society.

Kellee Woods, a prenursing student, headed last weekend's event.

Granger, who now offers hope to parents of children with cancer and lobbies lawmakers in Tallahassee for increasing funding for cancer research, was the event's advocacy chairwoman.

"She just inspires us to push harder," said Gail Lancaster, faculty sponsor with Marse Walsh, another cancer survivor.

Sarah Haynes, a psychology professor, her husband, two young children and her mother, also a cancer survivor, participated in the event. About 45 of Haynes' students also joined in the fundraising.

Pharmacy student Antrice Adams, five months' pregnant with twins, said it was important to be there.

"Last year, I lost three of my family members from cancer," she said.

The all-night event, which honored cancer survivors and remembered those who lost their battle to the disease, also was about the hope for a cure.

Shortly after 9 p.m., a large sign spelling "HOPE" and hundreds of luminarias glowed in a moving tribute.

"This ceremony is about hope to find a cure so that no little boy or girl has to go through what I've been through," Granger said.

"I've been cancer-free for 11 years now. And I thank God for that. And I'm so happy to be here."

By the numbers

$36,000 Raised during Friday's Relay for Life event.

28 Teams in the relay.

375 People who participated.

300 Luminarias lit to symbolize the hope of finding a cure.