Relaying for so many lives

Family members of Virgina and Bob Bryant, clockwise from left, Petite Bryant-Hunt, Mandy Jones, Lani Anderson, Verity Sensano, Fulton Anderson and Dawn Swamp, will be among the families remembering their loved ones lost to cancer by participating in the ninth annual South Whidbey Relay for Life. - Cynthia Woolbright
Family members of Virgina and Bob Bryant, clockwise from left, Petite Bryant-Hunt, Mandy Jones, Lani Anderson, Verity Sensano, Fulton Anderson and Dawn Swamp, will be among the families remembering their loved ones lost to cancer by participating in the ninth annual South Whidbey Relay for Life.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Each year they return, happy to see each other, but sad to see friends lost.

They take the first stride knowing there will be countless others. They do it gladly, they do it proudly, they do it in memory or with ambition of preventing a loss.

This year – the first steps of South Whidbey’s Relay for Life will be bittersweet for event organizer Petite Bryant-Hunt and a family who lost their mother, Virina, in April, to colon cancer.

“There’s been a lot of reflection because mom’s only been gone a short while,” she said.

During the survivor lap, Petite Bryant-Hunt and her family will be shedding tears of sorrow and tears of joy for the woman known for her culinary skills, generosity, lively spirit and infectious smile.

Petite Bryant-Hunt hopes no one begins a new year like she and her family began this one: learning that their mother had cancer.

“No one should have to sit and watch their family member’s health fail,” she said. “We have to help donate to research so we can find a cure and better ways to help manage cancer.”

That is why Bryant-Hunt and others with gather at South Whidbey High School for the Relay for Life.

“It’d be great if there were families who didn’t know of anyone affected by cancer, but that’s just not the way it is,” said Kristina Hunter.

“Until then, this is how we’ll help,” she said.

For the last three years, Hunter and her family have organized the Hornshaw Construction team.

This week they prepare to “Set Sail for a Cure” following this year’s theme in decorating their base camps and float for the annual kiddie parade.

They’re also doing the final tally of who in the Hornshaw family tree has had cancer — they’re already up to 22 and are still counting.

Some of those include Ryan Furman — son of Phyllis and Kenny Furman of Langley — who for two years fought leukemia before dying in September 2003. April Webb is a breast cancer survivor, and Kristina Hunter was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1991.

The Hornshaws say that their story is shared by many families in America; they are a symbol of how cancer has become common. But it’s one story they hope to change.

“Years ago it was almost as if people with cancer were handed a death sentence. But with increased support and awareness through projects like Relay, we might be able to find a cure, or at least increase people’s quality of life,” Linda Wallace said.

This is their third year of Relay after learning of the event from sister Karen Furman, who asked her family to carry on the tradition to relay in her memory.

Furman died from melanoma in July 2003.

The Hornshaw’s 15-member team is now backed by an army of friends, spouses and kids. Behind it all is “Big Pappa” Hornshaw — Terry, Margie’s husband — who supports the team with sponsorship and patience.

During the South End’s eighth annual Relay for Life June 25 and 25, perennial teams like the Ya’Yas will mostly likely be back on the track.

And you can bet that if you stop by the Hornshaw Construction team’s camp — they’ll even pour you a “poor man’s mocha” to keep you going.

Relay is a culminating event in month of programs, which included the National Cancer Survivors Day June 5 at Bayview Hall, devoted to the topic of cancer. Fundraising work the relay teams goes all year long, however.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life began in Tacoma, as the City of Destiny Classic 24-hour Run Against Cancer.

In the mid-1980s Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, began the run as a way to raise money for the local American Cancer Society Office.

He gathered pledges and had friends and family walk the 24-hour relay with him.

In 1986, 19 teams took part in the first relay event at Stadium Bowl, and the event raised $33,000.

Now Relay is an international event, as the American Cancer Society works in partnership with the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer to start relays at locations around the world.

Recently, Oak Harbor residents helped raise $160,000 during the city’s Relay for Life event.

During its best year, the South Whidbey Relay raised $60,000. Organizers hope that number continues to grow, despite the South Whidbey community’s small size.

“We may not raise as much as Florida’s $2 million Relay teams, but all about getting involved in your own way,” Bryant-Hunt said.

The relay for the Bryants is all about “ohana” — Hawaiian for family. It’s a proud legacy for the Bryants.

“We’re instilling in our children, in our nieces and nephews the ability and knowledge of what it feels like to give back to the community and each other through this service,” Bryant-Hunt said.

And if people haven’t been able to stop by one of the relay teams’ car washes, passed up those bake sales and maybe didn’t buy as many raffle tickets as they wished — there’s still a chance to help.

Go to the relay — there’s lots to do.

The Hornshaw team will have a Memory Garden, many teams are selling food, holding raffles, and offering crafts projects and games where people can have fun and donate to a good cause.

“It’s like a little carnival, almost like a street fair,” Hunter said.

And if people want to show support but don’t have much money to give, come walk a lap. The steps are like currency to the teams.

“Come share stories, keep us company, show you support us,” said Tami Freels.

For Margie Hornshaw, relay fundraising has increased importance.

Hornshaw has twice beat cancer: melanoma in 1996 and thyroid cancer in 1999. With surgery alone and no treatment, she feels lucky to have overcome cancer two times.

“Every penny we raise can help someone else go through what I had to go through, and I had it lucky,” Hornshaw said.

Last year her team raised around $1,700. They hope to surpass that number next weekend.

“There’s been a lot of community response,” Freels said. “Everyone stopping by any of the fundraisers has been very generous.”

They had people visit their car washes who’d already washed their cars, but insisted on passing over a donation — some as generous as $50. One gentleman picked up 25-cent coffee cup at their garage sale and handed over a $100 bill.

But even if they don’t meet the mark, they’ll be happy.

“Even if we only make $1,000, it adds up,” Freels said. “That $1,000 could be what puts research over the top and maybe directly contributes to breakthrough or a cure.”

Despite the community’s generosity, the team acknowledges that there’s still those out there — on South Whidbey and beyond — who are unfamiliar or even clueless about Relay for Life.

“Until our sister started, we didn’t really have much idea what Relay was,” Margie said.

Now, the family walks for Karen Furman, and others in the family who have or had cancer, knowing that she’s there with them with every step.

“You can feel her presence when you’re out there on that track,” Wallace said.

Even though it is not a competition — all the teams are there with the same goals, after all — the Hornshaw crew can’t help but have a little fun with the activities such as constructing a float for the kiddie parade.

Last year they went all out with the birthday theme. Their main float was a giant cake and all the kids were dressed as presents.

A previous year saw the gentlemen in the family dressed as bearded ladies to live up to the circus theme.

The Hornshaw Construction team is known for being one of the most consistent participants, Bryant-Hunt said.

They’re one of the few teams you’ll find walking the entire 24 hours of the relay — even in last year’s rain — and the team that packs their whole crew on the track to take the final lap in unison.

Cancer survivor Kelly Henriot often goes neck-and-neck with the Hornshaw team on most walked laps to earn bragging rights.

Two years ago, Henriot walked the entire 24 hours with just a few breaks. While everyone was already packing up, Kelly was still going.

“My feet were so blistered,” she said. “For my last lap, my husband came out with a wagon to wheel me around, and in it was champagne and flowers. I waved to everyone like I was a princess. I loved it.”

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