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Friday February 1st 2019


Life Redefined: The Gwinnett County Relay For Life: Coming Together With One Voice

Post Published: 10 May 2010
Category: Life Redefined, Relay for Life in Gwinnett County GA
This post currently has 19 responses. Leave a comment

I wish you all could have been with me at Relay For Life, but since you couldn’t, I’m going to try to convey the spirit of the event. I truly hope this gives you an idea of the power behind a unified front. The Gwinnett County, GA Relay For Life is the largest Relay in the world. There were between 8,000 and 10,000 people at the event and we raised around $2,000,000 that will go toward cancer research and awareness. I heard a lot of different stories from people with all different kinds of cancer. People were wearing all different colors of awareness bands (yes, I rocked my Dear Thyroid wristband!). BUT, we all came together and with one voicewe told the world we are not OK with the presence of cancer in our lives. Relay For Life was one huge party. Yes, a party.

We were celebrating survivorship and we were celebrating the memories of loved ones who fought a good fight against cancer. I’m hesitant to say those loved ones lost the battle to cancer because their memories live on and they continue to make an impact. The American Cancer Society, the self-proclaimed official sponsor of birthdays, threw a birthday party for survivors, complete with birthday cake, balloons, and a DJ. And we all sang Happy Birthday to each other. We also were given the opportunity to write a note that will be passed on to a newly diagnosed cancer patient. Every survivor in the room could recall that nauseating feeling you get when you first hear your name associated with cancer, but every survivor in that room also knew, at least to some degree, how to keep living. It was an opportunity to pass on encouragement and hope.

Here’s a picture of my friend Sabrina, me, & my mom at the “birthday party”:

I took on a mechanical bull. The bull won. Twice. You might be wondering, what does riding a mechanical bull have to do with finding a cure for cancer? Everything. Taking a ride on the bull cost $5, which went to straight to the American Cancer Society!

The Survivors Lap was the official Relay kick-off. There were about 2,000 survivors plus their caregivers walking a lap together, celebrating life

Walking the Survivors Lap was emotional and powerful. I accept that I have cancer. I am capable of saying my name and cancer in the same sentence, but walking in the Survivors Lap was a reality check. I was walking in the lap reserved for people with cancer. I had to let that sink in for a bit. Then, it was exciting. Thousands of supporters lined both sides of the track. These people weren’t just giving us two thumbs up as we walked by; they were yelling and screaming and clapping and cheering their hearts out. In this picture, I’m grinning from ear to ear because on the sideline, two of my brothers and one of my friends are yelling my name and cheering for me at the top of their lungs. This was the one lap that I did for myself. I loved every second of it.

There was a team there for a guy named Mike, a former president of the booster club for the local hockey team. In February, Mike was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. He anticipates this was his last Relay For Life for which he’ll be alive to participate. His Relay team was there to support him, and they made their presence known with their awesome t-shirts that screamed “Puck Cancer.” I loved that slogan and had to share it with you!

There was a lap that was designated for kids. These kids all took a lap around the track together to tell us they are taking a stand against cancer and fighting for a cure. It was sobering to watch. Some had parents with them who were cancer survivors, some were survivors themselves, and some were walking because they’ve seen the destructive effects of cancer and are not OK with it. I saw one boy being pushed around the track in a wheelchair with a survivor ribbon and pin tacked to his shirt and tears streaming down his face. It was humbling and heartbreaking but also encouraging to see such young kids wise enough to stand up against cancer, wise enough to raise awareness. After dark, people lit luminaries in memory of or in honor of those who’ve been affected by cancer. It was a beautiful and heart-wrenching all at the same time. Too many lives have been affected by cancer, and seeing all those candles lit made the impact of cancer even more tangible.

I want you to know I walked for the entire Dear Thyroid community to support our efforts in making thyroid diseases and cancers Invisible No More. I also walked one lap for each person who commented on my post last Tuesday. Walking those laps was truly an honor. Thank you for allowing me to stand in for you, to be your voice against cancer.

I love y’all!


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19 Responses to “Life Redefined: The Gwinnett County Relay For Life: Coming Together With One Voice”

  1. Sarah Downing says:

    Very interesting and very moving report, Joanna. I am happy if you ran a lap for my comment because (as I forgot to mention) it was cancer that took my mother-in-law’s life as well as that of my grandfather. It is great that you also walked on behalf of Dear Thyroid’s efforts.

    Love, Sarah

  2. Lori says:

    Joanna – thank you for sharing this with us. You couldn’t have done a better job at conveying the spirit of this event. And thank you so much for walking a lap for my familie’s and my loved one’s who have had cancer.
    I love what you said – “I’m hesitant to say those loved ones lost the battle to cancer because their memories live on and they continue to make an impact.”
    You are an inspiration, Joanna!


  3. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Sarah! My friend Sabrina and I walked together for y’all and we loved every second of it!

  4. Joanna says:

    Lori, it seriously was a pleasure to walk on behalf of your loved ones. I’m not lying when I say that.
    You’re an inspiration!

  5. Dear Thyroid says:

    Sarah – So very sorry for your loss.
    There really is no upside to cancer. If there is one, I just haven’t learned that that is.

  6. Dear Thyroid says:

    Lori – I’m very sorry you’ve lost family members to cancer. I agree with echoing Joanna’s sentiments: “I’m hesitant to say those loved ones lost the battle to cancer because their memories live on and they continue to make an impact.”
    Truer words haven’t been spoken…


  7. Dear Thyroid says:

    Joanna Darling;
    This is a beautiful, moving and greatly appreciated post. Thank you so much for allowing all of us to participate in your journey at Relay For Life.

    I love how much of yourself you shared with us. I felt like I could feel the wind in my hair, and walking alongside you as you were besieged with emotion about having cancer. Of course, I also wished you didn’t.
    Thank you for walking for each of us and Dear Thyroid.


  8. Michelle says:

    Joanna, thanks for sharing and for walking a lap for me. You inspired me last week to find my local Relay for Life. I signed up and wil be walking the survivor lap in a couple weeks. I also donated a luminary in honor of my mother and one in memory of my uncle. Next year I plan to organize my own relay team. Walk on.

  9. Joanna says:

    Katie, I had to share; I wanted to share. Not sharing goes against the whole purpose of Relay, in my opinion. Walking for y’all was an honor.

  10. Joanna says:

    Wow, Michelle! That’s so awesome!! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! You wear that survivor t-shirt with pride!

  11. Bee says:

    I saw Gwinnett Co, Ga. and suddenly realized that I’m your neighbor right on over here in Cherokee Co. Ga. and I work in Atlanta…I sit here reading your truly inspiring info. I am not yet at the point where I think i could get thru such an emotional event. I haven’t had thyroid or any other form of Ca but this damn hypoT has wreaked havoc on my tear ducts and I’m sobbing with joy for your spirit and your gift to all of us for what you so selflessly did for survivors and those that lost their fight. I would have to wear a raincoat and galoshes to protect my clothing from the flood of tears that i imagine would be constantly streaming down my face, or else people would think i was participating in a wet T-shirt contest.You’re wonderful!!!

  12. Joanna says:

    Bee, we’re neighbors?!! How fabulous!

    Thank you for you sweet words. You’re wonderful yourself, you know!

  13. Lolly says:


    what a truly inspirational thing you have done and thank you so much for the lap you did for me and my mum it had been a hard week for me this week one being the anniversary but just knowing that she lives on in me makes me stronger and knowing that others are showing support awareness and raising money for Cancer research makes her death not in vain.

    Thank you so much for sharing your “Relay for life” and your beautiful pictures and stories.


  14. HD In Oregon says:

    Hurrah! Hurrah! To all who walk! You all rock! – Cancer is such a devious killer! Cancer sucks !!
    HD in Oregon

  15. HD In Oregon says:

    Hurrah! Hurrah! To all who walk for cancer awareness! You all rock big time! – Cancer is such a devious killer! Cancer really sucks !!

    HD in Oregon

  16. Susanne Allen Thomas says:


    Thanks so much for sharing your Relay experience with everyone. I live in Gwinnett County and have for 30+ years. I have attended Relay for 5 or 6 years, but this year I was on the Activities Committee. I helped plan activities to keep everyone awake and moving all night.
    I was on Center Stage handing out awards at 6am Saturday morning to a very wide awake and awesome crowd. Cancer does not sleep and neither did that Relay crowd. I did it till dawn!!

  17. Joanna says:

    Lolly, your mom absolutely did not die in vain; I’m so glad you realize that. We cannot let cancer win.

  18. Joanna says:

    Yes, HD, cancer sucks!! Stupid cancer.

  19. Joanna says:

    Thanks for commenting, Susanne. The crowd was fabulous, as were the activities, so kudos! I have to admit, though, that I did NOT do it till dawn.

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