Have you ever lost a loved one to cancer? A friend, neighbor, or co-worker? These days it’s rare to not know someone whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer.

Have you ever lost a loved one to cancer? A friend, neighbor, or co-worker? These days it’s rare to not know someone whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer.

Community residents joined forces Friday night with the American Cancer Society at the Smyrna High track to fight back against cancer in the first-ever Smyrna-Clayton Relay for Life.

Relay for Life is an overnight event that doubles as a way to raise awareness while raising money for the fight against cancer. Teams are created, they raise money and then attend the event where they will not only partake in various activities but must always have someone from the team on the track at all times.

The event started at 7 p.m. and ended at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. It featured everything from special laps around the track to campsite decorating to the luminaria ceremony, which allowed for people to remember the loved ones they lost. To cap the evening off, the Smyrna Relay for Life exceeded their original goal of $25,000, raising over $30,000.

A survivor

Before the event officially began, those in attendance listened to two people whose lives have been affected by cancer. Gail Allen explained how she overcame breast cancer. For June Keister, her story was that of losing her daughter to this terrible disease.

Allen was diagnosed 12 years ago with breast cancer and was told she had a 30 percent chance of survival. Having lost her own mother to cancer, Allen was well aware of the fight ahead of her.

She thought that people wouldn’t want to be around her, touch or hug her but these were all the things she would need. In fact it was something as simple as her granddaughter Hannah Griffiths, a toddler at the time, rubbing Allen’s head and touching her cheek that helped with the healing process.

“Life is beautiful. Family is precious. Love conquers all. If you believe enough and trust enough and allow yourself to feel enough, you too can be a survivor,” Allen said.

The loss of a child

In 1999, June Keister received a phone call that changed her life forever. It was a doctor calling to inform her that Keister’s two-year old daughter Kylie Penuel had cancer.

Over the next nine years, Kylie would go through various treatments and clinical trials. There were periods of time where Kylie was cancer free only to relapse later on. Kylie’s cancer came back in full force in July 2007 and she passed away in June of 2008.

“I remember being thankful at that time that I not only got to celebrate her third birthday but also her 11th. I got to know my daughter and enjoyed every minute with her,” Keister said. “She was a kind, caring soul and I am forever better for having had her in my life.”

Exceeding expectations

When the Smyrna-Clayton Relay for Life committee began planning the event, they set their goal of raising $25,000; all proceeds go to ACS. However, Lewis said ACS informed them that realistically the group would probably only raise between $10,000 and $15,000.  Around midnight on Friday, the group reached $30,000.

“We’re over the moon. I can’t tell you how excited we are,” Lewis said.

Even though the 2012 Relay for Life event is done in Smyrna, the group will continue to raise money until August 31. After that, they will start fundraising for the 2013 relay.

“It’s overwhelming. I know Smyrna and Clayton have such a small-town community closeness. We always rally together. I knew we would come together but I didn’t think it would come together the way it did,” Lewis said.

Email Jennifer Dailey at jennifer.dailey@doverpost.com.