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Supporters, survivors relay for cancer cure

by: Nicole DeCosta, Sgt. Neil Hennelly, Mary Fieweger and Niki Johnston walk the first lap with other cancer survivors at West Linn’s first Relay For Life event last week at the Rosemont Ridge track.

The air seemed peaceful as tents went up around the Rosemont Ridge Middle School track Friday evening. A cool breeze swept the area. Participants in West Linn's first American Cancer Society Relay For Life event prepared to take to the track.

The 18-hour event began with speeches from cancer survivors, including Mayor Norm King, police Sgt. Neil Hennelly, event organizer Mary Fieweger and West Linn resident Niki Johnston.

'I can honestly say that I love deeper, I count my blessings every day. I am truly a better person for going through (cancer),' said Johnston, in her speech about her battle with breast cancer.

Fieweger reminded participants of the disease's impact on a global scale.

'Cancer doesn't sleep and there are a lot of us here that aren't going to sleep tonight,' she said. 'There are 310 types of cancer and we've got to figure out what's causing this.'

West Linn's first relay brought out 150 participants and raised approximately $22,000, said Megan Slack with the American Cancer Society.

Nationwide, 4,000 cities participated in the overnight relay, which raises money annually for research and programs through the American Cancer Society.

Cancer survivors walked the first lap around the Rosemont track. Master of ceremonies Warren Dexter sang a song he wrote for the event, and the lyrics touched on the relay as well as the importance of getting involved in the fight against cancer. Relay team participants joined cancer survivors on the second lap around the track as a silent auction began with items donated from West Linn businesses.

At dusk, the Luminary Walk was held, led by bagpiper Tom Drydon from the Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Pipes and Drums. At this time, messages written on 400 small white bags were illuminated by votive candles. The words on the bags were written in support of those with cancer and in memory of those who had the disease. The bags were decorated with flowers, trees, smiling faces and encouraging words such as, 'We love you mom and are here to support you 24/7.'

Will Renton, a 12-year-old leukemia survivor, spoke during the candlelit walk. And the track glowed into the morning.

'(I'm here) for fun. It's great to be involved in your community and nice to support cancer research because it affects so many,' said Kelly Pace, a cancer survivor.

Hennelly shared that the disease is uncomfortably close within the city's police department.

'We've had over a third of our police department stricken with cancer of one form or another,' said Hennelly, a 16-year cancer survivor. 'Events like this raise awareness and funding. This is a great, great cause.'

Committee members are needed to help organize next year's West Linn Relay For Life. Donations are still being collected to reach the American Cancer Society's goal of $28,000 from West Linn. Donations can be mailed to: American Cancer Society, Attn: West Linn Relay For Life, 0330 SW Curry St., Portland, OR 97239.

For more information about Relay For Life, visit the Web site at www.cancer.org.