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Cancer survivors gather to celebrate life at relay

| Sunday, Aug. 5, 2001

Next weekend, people from all over Fayette County will gather at Laurel Highlands High School. They'll start walking around a track - or run perhaps - and won't stop until 24 hours later.

The people there will be cancer survivors, their friends and family, or other folks who may have known someone with cancer.

Many of them during that time will thank the heavens above them that they are still around to enjoy the event.

And that's the point of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, which in Fayette County is scheduled 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 p.m. Aug. 12.

'It's just a gathering of the community resolved to fight cancer,' said John McDermott, relay chairman.

The relay is a national event, with chapters across the country staging their own relays. According to the chapter, there'll be more than 2,000 communities holding relays.

'The focus is on cancer control, survivorship and dissemination of information,' said McDermott.

At the event, survivors gather and celebrate life. In the meantime, they'll be raising money for the society, too. Each team is asked to try to raise $150 per man.

How they go about doing that varies, McDermott said. Some will hold bake sales. Others will sponsor dances.

McDermott said that this year the teams are participating with the goal for the Fayette County chapter relay to raise $150,000.

Teams will have at least one person running or walking around the track at all times. For the members who take a break, there's plenty of other activities.

There's the Nerf Olympics, pickup volleyball games, face painting and massage therapy, and concession stands.

In addition, there will be people handing out information on the dangers of sun and tobacco as well as on fitness and nutrition.

The relay, which is now in its eighth year, begins 10 p.m. Saturday, when teams will begin to arrive and set up their camp sites.

At midnight, participants will take a silent, candlelight lap around the track. At 6 a.m., there's a sunrise service. The Torch of Hope run begins 10:30 a.m. at Bud Murphy's Sports Bar & Restaurant in Connellsville.

In that event, runners will carry a torch from Connellsville to the stadium. The torch is expected to arrive by 2 p.m., where it will be handed off to Casey Chapley, the event's honorary chairperson.

Casey is a 5-year-old from Fairchance who has probably been through more than most kids her age.

At 10 months old, she was diagnosed as having a rare form of cancer that caused tumors to grow inside her eyeballs.

It's fast-growing cancer that doesn't have a lot of outward symptoms. Her parents, Keith and Belinda Chapley, said they didn't know anything was wrong until they began to notice a funny shine in her eyes.

'We're lucky we caught it when we did.'

They took her to a local optician, who suggested they take her to a pediatric optician.

Upon seeing Casey, that doctor referred them immediately to another specialist, who diagnosed the cancer.

Casey was treated at two Philadelphia hospitals - Wills Eye Hospital and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - where she underwent laser treatments and chemotherapy.

After 20 some trips to Philadelphia and six chemotherapy sessions and several laser treatments, Casey's cancer appears to be in remission.

'She's been cancer free since April 1999,' said her mother.

However, the laser therapy has damaged the retina in her right eye, leaving her with 20/80 vision.

Casey has grown up with that, her mom said, and she's adjusted.

Turning cartwheels in her living room, Casey said she is excited about being handed the torch and about being a big sister to Kylie. She also said she is looking forward to starting kindergarten.

The relay continues into the afternoon. At 9 p.m. there will be a luminary ceremony with a fireworks display following.

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