LAKEWOOD RANCH — A smiling group of 70 purple-clad cancer survivors took a ceremonial lap around the bus circle at Lakewood Ranch High School on Friday evening as hundreds of onlookers applauded.
This was one of the most dramatic moments of the 11th Annual American Cancer Society Lakewood Ranch Relay for Life, which featured 34 teams of 10 to 15 members each, whose goal was to raise $90,000 for cancer research, education, advocacy and patient services.
Last year the Relay raised roughly $70,000, said Elise Aubourg, a community representative with the American Cancer Society,
The teams, at Lakewood Ranch for the third straight year, were to walk through the night from 6 p.m. Friday to noon today.
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Hearing the crowd show its appreciation during the survivor lap struck home, said Raphael Allen, 79, Bradenton’s well-known second vice president of the Manatee County Community Action Team and a long-time advocate of a central city elementary school.
Allen is a 14-year survivor of prostate cancer.
“It felt good to hear the applause,” Allen said.
Allen is the man whose positive attitude seemed to help convince the Manatee County School Board to build the soon-to-be-open G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School on 13th Avenue West.
He said he approached his cancer with a similar “no way I’m giving up” attitude.
“When I was diagnosed, I was surprised because I didn’t think cancer could catch up to me since I’m so busy,” Allen said. “All through it, I never had the feeling cancer would take me out.”
While most weren’t aware he was battling cancer, Allen made constant speeches to the school board in the 1990s and early 2000s, some of which may have helped officials decide on the school’s central location.
A strong proponent of education, Allen has turned his cancer into a teaching moment.
He advocates dialogue on cancer at family reunions. He has lost five brothers to the disease and a 50-year-old nephew, Ralph Allen Hamilton, named for him, is fighting the disease right now.
Allen was not alone Friday among those whose stories seem to represent fierce determination.
Barbie Osterling, of Watercrest, in Lakewood Ranch calls herself a “hero mom.” She was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago when her son, Jeff, now a Lakewood Ranch High student, was 6 and her daughter, Kaylan, now at the University of Florida, was 10.
“I knew I wanted to raise them and I did,” said Osterling, who brought an inflated “cancer gator” to the relay.
“It’s symbolic of conquering cancer,” said Osterling, who pulled the gator around with her as if it was an obedient pet. “I’m dragging it around.”
What helped Osterling was support from friends. And she showed up at the rally with two other best friends and cancer survivors, Connie McKenzie, of Watercrest, a 16-year survivor, and Marilynn Godfrey, of River Club, also a “hero mom” with three and a half years of survival.
Rabbi Ed Weinsberg, retired from Massachusetts and now living at The Cascades, opened the Relay with a unique prayer.
Weinsberg himself is a two-year cancer survivor and wrote a book, “Conquering Prostate Cancer.”
In his prayer, Weinsberg said: “Lord, teach us to recognize that, for most of your creatures, the cup of life is filled only mid-way. May we learn to see it as half full and not half empty.”
Elise Aubourg, a community representative with the American Cancer Society, kept the crowd motivated with her positive speeches through the night.
“We have gathered as a community to help fight until no one has to hear those words, ‘You have cancer,’” Aubourg said.
The Relay is 25 years old this year and has raised $3 billion.
Each survivor’s story is unique, but something was similar with each.
“I believe each individual has a lot to offer,” said Bradenton’s Darlene Clubb, 50, a three-year survivor of breast cancer. “We are all here for a reason. I would tell someone just diagnosed to take a step and take another and, by stepping, you will make a difference for others.”