For Jill Cottengim, Relay for Life hits home.
Cottengim is a cancer survivor and she helped get a team started in Garner 18 years ago.
She suffered from Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease. It is one of the most curable cancers and doctors were able to catch it early. But a friend of hers, Stephanie Smith, was not so lucky.
Smith and Cottengim both had the disease around the same time, but Smith died.
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They helped support each other through the rough times, and wanted to make a difference. Cottengim saw an ad in the paper that some people were trying to get a fundraiser started for Relay for Life. Before Smith died, she and Cottengim worked to get a team in Garner.
“It was a little scary but I tried to keep a positive attitude,” she said about having cancer. “It helped me focus on doing the relay. It gave me a chance to have something to focus on while I was going through it.”
Relay for Life helps fund cancer research through the American Cancer Society. Teams help raise money through fundraisers each year.
When town residents first started raising money for Relay for Life 18 years ago, it was held on a small track at Garner High.
It has since grown, and the town has been a major contributor to the initiative. So far Garner has raised $10.4 million over the years. The town has been recognized across the nation as a top funding team, Cottengim said.
“Each year we raise, on average, $170,000,” she said. “The highest we ever raised was $200,000.”
This year, 45 teams have raised more than $23,000. But the big event doesn’t happen until April at Lake Benson Park. Teams walk around the track for 24 hours and raise money.
The opening ceremony starts on April 24 at 4 p.m. In the meantime, different teams are having their own fundraisers and have been doing so since December.
Vandora Springs Elementary art club will have a silent auction for Chairs of Hope on April 11. Saint Andrews United Methodist is selling T-shirts. On March 24, Chick-Fil-A stores in Garner will both have Spirit night from 4 - 8 p.m. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Relay for Life. Garner United Methodist will host a chicken barbecue on Friday at 11 a.m., called “Cooking for a Cure.”
Garner United Methodist has been among the highest sellers in the town. Last year, the church sold about 1,200 takeout chicken dinners. Some dined in and others had food delivered.
“As a pastor, I have never been a part of a community where cancer has touched such a large percentage of people’s lives,” the Rev. Greg Jenks said.
His sister is a cancer survivor, so it resonates with him as well.
Associate Pastor Susan Hobbs agreed. Her daughter is also cancer survivor. She said the church is honoring those who survived and those who died.
Hobbs said by doing this, the church is supporting those who research ways to eradicate cancer.
“It’s just a way for us, I think, to unite in how God is already working in this church when he calls us to love and care for one another,” Hobbs said.
Cottengim, who is a teacher at Garner Magnet High, said the school also has teams to raise money.
“It just really makes me proud to live in this community and to be a part of a community that comes together like this,” Cottengim said.
To find out more about what’s going on and the upcoming Relay events in Garner visit http://garnerrelay.org or their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RelayGarnerNC.