June 27, 2004 Beautiful voices rang through the morning air Sunday singing the refrain, "Breathe upon me Lord." The voices offered musical support to the dozens of runners and walkers circling the track at Charlotte Amalie High School to raise money and spirits for those whose lives have been touched by cancer.
Many of those on the track had been up all night, walking and running in team relays, while enjoying the company of friends and neighbors who came out to the 3rd annual V. I. Relay for Life the signature event of the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Lillian Santos, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, said at the opening ceremony Saturday, "We need to continue to celebrate the lives of those who have fought bravely and won … and to remember those who are no longer with us."
Santos pointed out that the local chapter of the Cancer Society was the only group conducting a Relay and was able to keep all of the proceeds to support local programs.
Nationwide 3,800 Relays for Life took place this year, she said later, raising a total of $240 million.
However, Santos was quick to say, "Relay for Life is not a fund raiser." Rather, she said, "It is a way to bring the community together to talk about the positive side of cancer."
Thanks to increased awareness and early detection, Santos said, "Cancer is no longer a death sentence."
Cancer survivor and impromptu speaker at the opening ceremony Donna Phillip said, "When I was diagnosed I was busy going through my life," which included a divorce.
Phillip said one day she found three lumps on her breast. "I had never had any tests," she said.
By that time she had stage three-A breast cancer, which, she said, was very aggressive. When she went to the doctor she was told the breast would have to be removed immediately. Phillip said, with the help of her sister and others, she went through the surgery and then through chemotherapy. Phillip was very emphatic about getting tested and staying positive. "You can get through it," she said, as she pointed out that after more than five years, she was here to tell her story. She sadly noted that others were not.
"I encourage you to be very concerned about your body," she said.
Services are available
Support services are available to Virgin Islanders who must travel to Puerto Rico for their cancer care, Santos said Saturday afternoon. One of those services, Children's Hope Lodge in Santurce, Puerto Rico, has already helped 15 families from the Virgin Islands, she said.
The recently renovated children's lodge has 19 rooms where families can stay while the children are receiving treatment at the nearby Hospital San Carlos.
Santos, who is heading a capital campaign to raise $1 million to build a Hope Lodge for adults in Puerto Rico, expects to be able to help adult Virgin Islanders within the next year.
The local chapter of the American Cancer Society also provides, through the funds raised at the relay, direct financial assistance for transportation, equipment, medication and lab work or studies for individuals.
Santos said lots of programs that directly benefit the Virgin Islands are funded by the relays nationwide.
Education, training for volunteers in support services, and even cosmetics are a few of the things offered thanks to funds raised by these events, Santos said.
This year's local event is expected to raise between $80,000 and $100,000, Raul Carillo, chairman of the event, said Sunday morning.
An obviously tired but elated Carillo, said 60 teams participated in this year's event, an increase over last year's 47 teams. In the first two years the event grossed $200,000, Carillo said.
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