CHAMPAIGN – Some were walking sprightly, others kind of dragging. Some were pushed in wheelchairs, others pulled in wagons. But the approximately 200 people who walked the survivors lap at the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life on Saturday evening were all smiling.
"We're survivors," yelled Angela Page, 45, of St. Joseph, pumping her fist in the air. She and her husband Jim Page, 54, pulled their 4-year-old son Will in a wagon around the track at Centennial High School in Champaign.
Diagnosed last Halloween with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Will Page just had his first full night's sleep in eight months a couple of nights ago, according to his mother.
And after finishing the survivors lap, he was far more interested in the inflatables than blood counts, ports or his new hair.
"It was kind of melancholy," Angela Page said of the lap, "because the last time I was here was with my dad who had lung cancer."
Her father died in March, as she and her husband were making weekly trips to St. Louis for Will's treatment.
"My dad really struggled with the idea of Will having leukemia. He thought of all the pokes and prods he went through," she said, adding she drew inspiration from her late father. "You do what you gotta do. There's no time to crumble."
That was and is the attitude of so many of the cancer survivors present Saturday at the 18th Relay For Life in Champaign County.
Shayne Squires, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said more than 1,000 people were expected to walk the track until 6 a.m. Sunday in hopes of raising $300,000.
"It's made me a much better person and stronger," said Tina DeMoss, 43, of St. Joseph. "I've learned six words: You have on the one hand faith, hope and love and on the other hand you have fighter, survivor and inspirator."
Diagnosed in February 2007 with breast cancer, DeMoss went through chemotherapy, radiation and a "wonderful drug called Herceptin" for about two years.
"I've had such a positive mind-set through this. Some people take it like it's a life sentence. It's not like that today. If I went to the doctor and he told me I had it again, I would just fight again. That's all we can do. Our mind-set has to stay positive," she said.
DeMoss hugged her "inspirator" and fellow cancer survivor Sue Voges of Ogden and walked the survivors lap with her.
"I'm a 10-year survivor," said Voges, 52, who smiled bravely and said she feels "OK" when asked about the cancer that is spreading through her body.
A former Illinois state trooper, Voges has been an inspiration to many. And she's attended at least 10 Relay For Life events.
"The first time I didn't feel right (walking the survivors lap). Two months, 10 years. You're still a survivor," she said.
Sam Wells, 20, of Philo, had been to several prior relays to support his aunt, Jane Waldbillig, 59, of Champaign, who's battled breast cancer for 12 years. On July 2, 2007, Wells got the word that he too had the dreaded disease.
Cancer-free since October and back to playing golf at Parkland College, the handsome young man said he feels good. "It's cool. Me and my aunt have grown a lot closer. I ask her about procedures," he said.
DeMoss said this is her third Relay For Life.
"I walked the first year when I was sick but I was not feeling good. The fatigue you feel through chemo and radiation is so indescribable," said DeMoss, who was accompanied by her husband, Dennis, to Saturday's event.
Feeling great and grateful now, she is more than willing to help others going through cancer.
"When you've experienced everything, you want to be with the people (who have it or have survived it) and be there for the ones that have passed on," she said.
WCIA meteorologist Robert Reese had a similar view. A survivor of esophageal cancer, the 47-year-old Tuscola resident warmly greeted fans who became friends while going through treatment with him.
Diagnosed in May 2008, the popular Channel 3 personality said at first he wasn't sure he wanted anyone knowing about his condition. The folks at Christie Clinic in Champaign even gave him a code to a door so he could come and go from the clinic unnoticed. He used it a couple of times.
"I thought, 'Who the heck am I to worry about that?' We're all in the same boat. I sat in the lobby and made some friends," he said.