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Relay for Life unites survivors, supporters

PALMETTO — Cancer survivors clad in purple with friends by their side Friday kicked off a Relay For Life at Palmetto High School.

The event, which has participants divided into teams, allows survivors to share their stories and also raises funds for cancer research.

Those who attend the event take turns walking around the track for 18 consecutive hours.

The event is expected to wrap up around noon today.

A few hundred people participated in the event, which nationwide draws about 3.5 million people, according to the event’s Web site.

Niki Patterson, 27, of Palmetto, stood on the sidelines and cheered for her boss leading the survivors’ lap as the event kicked off.

“Our boss, Caroline, was diagnosed with lymphoma six months ago. We all came out here in honor of her,” said Patterson, who was standing with a group of women wearing pink.

Patterson works at Seychelles Spa, 1003 10th Ave. W., Palmetto.

About 15 people are on the team, she said.

“Most of us are going to stay all night,” Patterson said as nearby attendees began pitching tents on the field. “We wanted to raise awareness and funds to support and encourage (people).”

Jim Freeman, the event chair for the relay, said nearly 100 survivors registered for the walk and 21 teams pledged to raise funds and walk.

The event, which has been held at the high school for 10 years, was hoping to raise $40,000. Freeman said at the beginning of the event a total of $25,000 had been pledged.

All the funds raised from food, luminaria sales and pledges are donated to the American Cancer Society.

“It’s just a good community event to celebrate those who have beat cancer. We’re remembering those who fought it and we’re fighting a deadly disease,” Freeman said.

Helen White, 56, celebrated her birthday Friday. She is two-time breast cancer survivor.

White sat under the survivor’s tent at the event with others.

“I have a daughter and a granddaughter I’m alive for,” she said, smiling.

White, who is a surgical nurse at Manatee Memorial Hospital, said she tries to encourage others who are still fighting.

“Be brave and fight the fight,” she said. “I’ve seen that part of it, too. I’ve been on the table and around the table.”

For more information on cancer, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org.

Beth Burger, Herald criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.

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