Cailynn Hyler is just three, and, while she was having fun at the Aiken Relay For Life Friday, she of course didn't comprehend what was happening.
When she turns 16, Cailynn will get a letter from her mother Dana, who will explain how her daughter saved her life.
“I was pregnant with Cailynn when my doctors found a mass around my cervix,” Hyler said. “She's my little miracle. If I hadn't been pregnant, they wouldn't have found it.”
Hundreds of survivors, family members, friends and community volunteers came to South Aiken High School for the annual event, which celebrates those who have survived and honors those who battled as long as they could. Everyone there had connections to the disease that strikes so many people throughout the nation and beyond. Paula Turner served as cochairman this year whit Amber Holcomb.
“I had been involved with Relay years ago, then my mother died of colon cancer six years ago,” Turner said, “so I've gotten more involved since then. It's been really exciting. These teams out here are so into Relay. They're doing amazing things, and we're doing all we can to fight cancer.”
The activities and the food and the camaraderie are always a treat. It's the stories that compel, that touch the heart in unexpected ways – grief and hope and joy and faith all emerging at once. By 8 p.m., it was not yet dark, but, by 10 p.m., the stadium lights would go out, leaving only the illumination of the luminaries that remember some and celebrate others.
Through seven years as a survivor, Shirley Abney has willingly served as a volunteer to promote and engage in Relay efforts.
“In my first year as a survivor, I knew I wanted to do something,” she said. “I absolutely love Relay. I had a stroke back in August, but I was determined I was going to do this Relay. I'm here and thankful for that.”
Brooke Rykard truly bounced around the track during the Survivor's Walk – undeterred by the cancer diagnosed in February and the following chemotherapy that has left her without her hair. But that is of little consequence; Rykard's mother Lecia learned last summer she had cancer. She died a few weeks ago.
“It means so much to be here tonight,” Rykard said. “I get to represent here and myself.
Houston Brown and Raymond Ergle made their way around the track – Brown's arm over Ergle's shoulder, and Ergle's arm in turn around his friend's back. They've gone to the same church, but didn't get to know each other well until about two years ago. Both were diagnosed with prostate cancer a year or so apart.
“Being arm-in-arm here means a lot,” Brown said. “You just realize how blessed you are.”
Dana Hyler had been pregnant for six months with Cailynn when she learned of the tumor. It was so large that Hyler couldn't hold her in any longer at 8 months. Doctors decided on a C-section and subsequent hysterectomy. As for Cailynn, she has been healthy ever since.
“I'm great and well on the way to recovery,” Hyler said. “I'm living every day to the fullest, and I have a wonderful support system. I can't wait to share with my daughter how she saved her mother's life. God put a miracle there.”
• Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Leading the Survivor’s Walk with the banner at the Aiken Relay For Life Friday are, from left, Annie Brown, Becky Holtzendorff, Donna Smith and Emily Lockard.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Survivors, from left, Vaughnena Pressley, Almeta Wright and Fannie Butler, are ready to walk at the Aiken Relay For Life event on Friday.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Survivors, family and volunteers listen solemnly to the national anthem before the Survivors’ Walk kicks off the Aiken Relay For Life on Friday.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Elvie Peals and his daughter, Felicia McAlpin have battled cancer together for the past two years.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Raymond Ergle, left, and Houston Brown describe themselves as “buddy and buddy” in helping each other deal with cancer. They made their way around the South Aiken High School track arm in arm during the Survivor’s Walk.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Bobby and Gelena Wilson, both cancer survivors, say that Collen, a Maltese, takes good care of them.×