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Local Relay For Life raises $115,000

A group of relay participants make their way around the track at New Richmond Middle School.1 / 3
Eighty cancer survivors lined up to participate in the survivor lap.2 / 3
Brooklyn Mishler smiles after donating 10 inches of her hair to make wigs for patients battling cancer.3 / 3

Relay for Life participants raised about $115,000 for the American Cancer Society on Friday at New Richmond Middle School, surpassing their goal of $100,000.

The event began at 2 p.m. on Friday and continued until 2 p.m. on Saturday. The event went for 24-hours because "cancer never sleeps."

The opening ceremony, which began at 6 p.m. on Friday, featured a speech by cancer survivor TJ Helgeson.

Helgeson told his story about being diagnosed with a rare type of leukemia.

"This is not how my life was supposed to go," Heleson said at the opening ceremony. "I was only 26, landed the dream job and gotten engaged to my beautiful girlfriend Renee weeks prior."

He said that going through treatment was tough, both physically and emotionally.

"My skin had faded to a deathly shade of gray, my head of hair was gone, my face all swollen from various chemotherapy drugs and steroids, my body covered in bandages from various medical procedures," Helgeson said. "I looked like hell."

Helgeson compared his situation to that of the world's oldest known tree, which he had read an article about previously. He said that on the outside, the tree looked dead, but the roots were keeping it alive.

"My deepest root was my faith," he said. "Without it, I simply wouldn't be here. The next is my wife Renee. She was brought into my life for many reasons, none bigger than to make me fight on days when I had enough. There's also the root of my friends who continue to put me in their lives. And last but not the least the root of complete strangers that even now take the time to ask me how I'm doing."

Shortly after Helgeson's speech, the survivor lap took place. This lap was in honor of the 80 relay attendees who had survived cancer. Each survivor had a paper chain, each link representing how many years they'd been cancer-free.

The event also allowed those who had signed up to donate their hair for Pantene's Beautiful Lengths program, which makes wigs for cancer patients.

Brooklyn Mishler, 10, participates in Relay for Life in memory of her grandfather and had previously donated her hair with her mother and grandmother. After spending two years growing it out, Mishler said she was nervous about donating 10 inches of her hair at the event.

"I'm not sure what I would look like and I'm still curious," Mishler said as the stylist was cutting her hair.

The event also featured music, food, games, the Luminaria Ceremony and more.

Patty Berger, co-coordinator of the event, said this relay was a success.

"We busted our goal and we know there's going to be more money coming in," Berger said.

According to Berger, the top fundraising team was Carla's Tough Nuggets.

Berger said events like Relay for Life are important to raise awareness about "how far and wide cancer reaches."

"Nobody is immune," she said.