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Community invited to American Cancer Society Relay fundraising events

An unidentified girl gets her face painted at the 2011 Newton Relay for Life. Fund-raising events for the American Cancer Society, Relays offer family activities, food and entertainment.

An unidentified girl gets her face painted at the 2011 Newton Relay for Life. Fund-raising events for the American Cancer Society, Relays offer family activities, food and entertainment.

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Pine Street Elementary School cafeteria employee Mae Gilchrist shares a moment with Pine Street volunteer Dorothy Bauer at the 2011 Rockdale Relay for Life event at the Georgia International Horse Park.

Doctors diagnosed Charlie Mason with cancer at seven months old. He had a tumor under his right lung the size of a man's fist, wrapped around his spine.

Surgeons removed the tumor and Mason underwent rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. His cancer went into remission.

Told he would never walk due to spinal cord damage, Mason did gain use of his legs thanks to the persistence of his mother, who exercised his limbs each day, and physical therapy.

Now 34, he will be walking in the Rockdale Relay for Life to help others who have experienced the disease that almost took his life.

The 2012 Rockdale Relay for Life event is set for 7 p.m. on April 27 at the Georgia International Horse Park. The 2012 Newton County Relay for Life occurs on the same day and time at the Church in Covington.

Relay for Life is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, which provides research for the cure and treatment of cancer, and support and education to cancer patients and their families.

Teams of people gather together and walk laps around a track from evening until the morning to earn pledges. Each Relay starts off with a lap reserved only for cancer survivors.

"I've been doing things I've been told that I could never do, that's why Relay means so much to me," said Mason, who grew up in Conyers and is a member of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church Relay team.

"The survivor lap reminds me of how far I've come and how blessed I am to not only be a cancer survivor, but also to regain the use of my legs."

Organizers stress that the public is invited to the Relays; they don't have to be registered on a fund-raising team. The community can peruse the many booths set up selling crafts, food and other items, all to benefit the American Cancer Society. Entertainment, such as live music, will also be on tap.

"The biggest thing that a lot of people don't understand is that this is an open, communitywide event. If you buy a hot dog, you're giving money. If you buy a bottle of water, you're giving money. All that money goes to the American Cancer Society; the money fights all types of cancers and the research is for all ages, from infant to adults," said Christy Lyons, an organizer for the Newton Relay for Life.

"You don't have to be on a team. It's a great time to see people you haven't seen for 20 years, a great time to get together with people you grew up with, or your neighbors."

The Rockdale County Relay has so far recruited about 440 fundraising participants to raise $135,000 and Newton is expecting roughly 820 people to bring in $242,000. Last year, Rockdale raised $130,000 and Newton raised $232,000.

Teams are comprised of community members from schools, churches, businesses, nonprofit organizations, families and groups of friends. In addition to getting pledges, team members also hold small fundraising events such as bake sales and carnivals in the months before Relay.

During Relay, each team sets up a tent and campsite and will be selling goods to raise more money. Teams also sell luminary bags and torches in honor or memory of a loved one with cancer.

"It allows you to mourn the past, to deal with today and hope for the future," said Lyons, who lost her father to cancer one month after her high school graduation.

"Doing Relay helps me fight back on something that has taken away something that was precious to me. It gives me a chance to help somebody else have to not deal with what I dealt with."

Lyons' father died in 1991, a pivotal year for breakthroughs in cancer research, she said.

"We don't want it to be a moment too late for anybody else," Lyons said.

For more information on Relay, visit www.relayforlife.org or for questions about cancer, call the American Cancer Society help line at 800-ACS-2345.