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Fenton Relay for Life Marches On

Hundreds 'Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back' for American Cancer Society

At nearly 2 years old, little Elizabeth Terrill has long, brown curls and a wide smile. She also is already a cancer survivor.

The daughter of John Terrill, a 1998 Fenton High School graduate, and Marissa Terrill, Elizabeth has chemotherapy every other week. She has a little nausea and vomiting, and some sleepiness, but she is able to keep her hair and has been able to play with other children, her mother said. On Friday, at the American Cancer Society's annual Relay for Life at , Elizabeth held a white balloon as she got a hug from her parents. The family traveled from Grand Rapids for the event.

The goal of this year's 24-hour Relay for Life, which runs through 2 p.m. Saturday, is to raise $111,000, said Event Chair Randi Goss. A committee of 10 to 15 has been working on the event since October.

Participants from throughout the region came out to raise money for the important cause of cancer research, they said.

Among them was Bill Harris. Well-known as a TV journalist for WJRT-TV,  channel 12, spoke at the relay Friday. A cancer survivor himself, Harris said he has trouble grasping the words, "cancer" and "celebration." But Harris, who now works part-time for the network, said, in order to fight back against cancer and win, people need to find time to celebrate life.

He wore the McLaren Hospital golf shirt that staff at the Great Lakes Cancer Institute gave him on his last day of radiation treatment, for prostate cancer. It happened to be his birthday, Harris said.

It's important for cancer survivors to celebrate their family and friends, caregivers and even "total and complete strangers" who support them emotionally, physically and financially. He's been a cancer survivor for three years, five months, he said. "I'm going to be fighting back with you. We will find a cure, and when we do, I'll have no second thoughts about increasing the profitability of Hallmark cards as we continue to create a world with more birthdays and more birthday cards."

And the Terrill family hopes to be celebrating plenty more birthdays for Elizabeth. She was born with a lump by her shoulder blade, which looked like the shoulder blade was popping out. But, after her first birthday, the area appeared larger. The battery of tests that followed included x-rays, a CAT scan and an MRI. A biopsy on Sept. 3, 2010 showed an aggressive tumor.

But Elizabeth is almost done with her treatment, with nine more chemo sessions to go. Her parents hope it will be completed in October. After that, some maintenance could be necessary.

The little girl has taken the ordeal in stride, her mother said. "She knows all the nurses. She waves, says hi."

Having family support is one way survivors cope.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Ford, and her sister, Madeline, of Fenton, were caregivers for their parents, Rhonda and Rick Hillman, when they battled breast and colorectal cancer, respectively. "Those two took care of us," Rick Hillman said.

Gabe Ford, a renowned anti-bullying speaker and author, uses a wheelchair due to a rare, neuromuscular disease, Friedreich's ataxia. But, when her mother was ill and on the couch, Gabe Ford would come up to her in her wheelchair, saying, "Come on, let's go for a walk," Rhonda Hillman said.

She said her daughter also never missed any of her doctor appointments and spent the night in the hospital with her. "She made me inspired," Rhonda Hillman said.

Jayne Ellsworth, of Fenton, who has survived breast cancer twice, inspired her family to become involved with Relay for Life. She is a past committee chairperson for the relay, said Sean Sage, of Fenton. Ellsworth is in remission, and she has loved the relay and being involved in the community and with other cancer survivors. At their "Irish There Was No Cancer" booth, children (including Teaghan Sage, 3) took turns in a "jail" of wooden and plastic pipes, holding out cups for donations. They each needed $2 to get out of jail, Sage said.

Another group from the community, representing the Comerica Bank branch in Fenton, also helped raise money to help the American Cancer Society. Peter Grebeck, whose wife works at Comerica Bank, said his Perfection Limousine business in Hartland was donating a unique live auction prize. It is a night out in a stretch pink Hummer. Bids will start at $250, with the proceeds going to the Relay for Life, Grebeck said. In addition, whenever someone rents the stretch pink Hummer from Perfection Limousine, the business donates part of the rental fee to a different fund that helps fight cancer.

Another participant, Verna Taylor helped Beverly Isaguirre with a fundraising booth. Wearing an inflatable pair of white bunny ears, Isaguirre challenged passersby to throw inflated rings onto the ears. "It's a really good time, for a really good cause," Taylor said. Isaguirre agreed. "You meet a lot of nice people," she said.

Chelsie Wilcox, 34, of Flint, is fighting her second bout with cancer, she said. Last year, she walked in the relay, while this year, she used a wheelchair. "I'm going to beat it. I beat it once, I can beat it again," Wilcox said.

Also walking, Pam St. Onge traveled from Lake Orion for the Relay for Life. She celebrated two years as a cancer survivor in May. St. Onge and her family formed the Steps for Susan team, in honor of her sister, Susan, who lost her own fight against the disease. "It's awesome," St. Onge said. "We will definitely be back next year."

Maxine Gray, of Grand Blanc, who helped raise money for the Relay for Life said, "I like it. I think it's been fun."

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