BENNINGTON — More than 300 people came together on Saturday to raise thousands of dollars for cancer research and patients.
Many said they knew family and friends who were diagnosed with cancer. Others spoke about caring for a loved one while they underwent treatment. Dozens of participants wore purple shirts, signifying they had survived the illness.
Participants in the annual Relay for Life of Bennington County raised more than $45,000 for the American Cancer Society. That amount, listed on the event's webpage, could increase as donations are tallied. Members from about 40 teams gathered at Mount Anthony Union High School to walk around the track from noon until 12 a.m.
For cancer survivor Ben Barton, support from family and friends was a major help.
He was a Vermont State Trooper in the Middlesex barracks and about to move back to the Bennington area when, while out for a jog in August of 2014, he felt a pain in his groin.
Addressing a crowd during the event's opening ceremony, Barton said he considered himself to have a healthy lifestyle. He went to a local physician for an exam soon after arriving back in town. Hours later, he was at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center for an ultrasound. At a visit with a specialist a few days later, he was given a diagnosis of testicular cancer and told he needed surgery and chemotherapy.
"I never once asked myself 'why' or went through any disbelief or denial," Barton said in his remarks. "Instead, I focused on the cards I was dealt and took things head on."
He got much support from fellow troopers, who passed wristbands with his name on them around the state. Three troopers from the Middlesex barracks, visiting him in the post-operating room, presented him with a wheelchair with his cruiser's license plate on the back.
In 2015, over 4 million people took part in 6,000 relay events throughout 24 countries, according to the American Cancer Society. A total of $400 million was raised, $311 million from the U.S.
Three-quarters of the money raised goes to cancer research, financial support to patients and their families, campaigns around prevention and education, and detection and treatment programs, according to the organization.
Holly Tonon spoke of caring for her husband Oliver, who died on Jan. 26 after an 18-month battle with metatastic stage four pancreatic cancer. Caring for him was "hard, challenging, and frustrating," she said.
"I'm very proud of the fight he gave," she said.
They were married on January 12 — their employer, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, organized a wedding in a 24-hour period.
Hundreds of luminaries — paper lanterns representing those who have been affected by cancer, whether they were lost to the disease or are battling it currently — surrounded the edge of the walking track. Each one was personalized with names, drawings or a photo in memory of a person. And each one was lit after last light on Saturday in an emotional ceremony.
Barton left attendees with three messages: Good things come from situations you may not expect; pay attention to your body — if something seems wrong, speak with your doctor; and, "Open your heart and let people in."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979