The rain hardly let up at Lake Benson Park on Friday. And neither did the cancer opponents, who were there raising money for Relay For Life.
There were fewer people than usual at the event, but those who were there continued on.
Chicken wings, burgers and hot dogs still sizzled on the grills under shelters and tents. Bands played music. People wore raincoats and used umbrellas and continued to sell their items and walk the track. And when the rain fell too hard, they just waited under shelter.
“Yeah it sucks,” Jill Cottengim said of the rain, “but cancer sucks worse.”
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Cottengim, who has been the lead organizer for the event in Garner for the past 19 years, is a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma. She and other Garner residents have helped raise $2.5 million for cancer research over the years, and she said she wasn’t going to let a little rain slow down the event.
“As a survivor, I know they are proud of what they’ve done and what they’ve been through,” she said. “Cancer affects everybody no matter size, shape color, gender. That’s everybody.
There were many stories of cancer survivors and those who lost loved ones with cancer.
One of those was Juanita Taylor, 51, of Raleigh, a survivor of colon and breast cancer. It was her sixth time participating in a Relay for Life event in Garner.
Taylor was first diagnosed with colon cancer eight years ago.
“For me, personally, I didn’t fear it because I knew that God had me, and I knew I would overcome it,” Taylor said. “But the hardest part was telling my daughters because they were 16 and 21.”
A single mother, Taylor sat her two daughters down and told them, “I’m going to be fine. The doctors told me I have cancer.”
“They both were devastated. They thought they were going to lose their mom.”
But Taylor defied odds, just as many others have. She still undergoes chemotherapy every day and appears in good health, seven years after doctors said she probably wouldn’t make it longer than 18 months.
The second cancer, triple negative breast cancer, came around Christmas a little more than two years ago.
Both of her girls were in college.
“It was harder for them the second time because it was right at Christmas time, and they were going to have to go back to school with this on their minds,” she said.
Doctors were able to catch the breast cancer early enough for her to get surgery to have it removed. The surgery was successful.
Taylor said she thought about her battles with cancer and how blessed she was during the survivor’s lap around the track. She and other survivors and their caretakers walked a lap, showing supporters that they beat their deadly diseases.
“Like Jill always says, ‘cancer never stops,’ ” she said. “So we have to be vigilant about it.”
Dylan Brown, 25, also took to the track during the survivor’s lap. He is a 20-year survivor of leukemia.
Growing up as a child with cancer, Brown said he felt bad every day. It took a toll on his parents, he said.
“We just thank God really that I’m alive. I’m here,” he said. “It’s definitely a blessing to my mom, because she tells me she doesn’t know what she would do without me.”
Later that night, despite the dampness of the luminary bags from the rain, some were still able light the candles commemorating those who lost their battles with cancer.
Garner had raised almost $109,000 this year prior to the event. After the event, they were up to $123,000.
How to donate
Teams can still raise money until August. The money goes to the American Cancer Society for cancer research. To donate to a team in Garner, go to garnerrelay.org.