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'Light up the night'

Purple balloons decorate a campsite at the Relay For Life Friday night. Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service1 / 5
During the luminary ceremony Jessica Dupis and Julie Witt shared their stories of their battles with cancer, then the luminaries were lit. Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service2 / 5
Luminaries wait to be lit after the sun sets on Perham. Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service3 / 5
Luminaries are lit in front of the bleachers during the luminary ceremony. Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service4 / 5
Once the sun set, the luminaries were lit, forming a circle around the Perham High School track, a sight to see. Meagan Pittelko/Forum News Service5 / 5

American Cancer Society members and all other Relay For Life organizers and participants know that cancer doesn't discriminate. Young or old, rich or poor, it can—and does—affect millions of lives every year. That's why, every year, Perham residents join Relay teams and fundraise for the American Cancer Society, eventually gathering at the Perham High School track and camping for a night of fun, support and, most of all, remembrance.

The Relay for Life day began, as it always does, with the opening ceremony at 7 p.m. when survivors were asked to take a lap around the track to "help everyone celebrate the victories achieved over cancer."

From there the fun and games began, with different tents set up offering a smorgasbord of goodies and games to attendees. Some fun featured this year was face painting and "crazy hair," where kids and adults alike could opt to get colors sprayed into their hair. On the food end, tents offered everything from pizza to root beer floats.

Once the sun began to set, the luminaria ceremony began, with a few words from Honorary Relay For Life Co-chairs Jessica Dupius and Julie Witt.

Dupius, who shared her story as the luminaries were lit, was just a young mother when she was diagnosed with cancer.

"At the age of 29, I never thought about having cancer, much less being diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer," she began.

As she spoke, a five-year battle with cancer unfolded, the ups and the downs of her personal experience showing just how jarring a cancer diagnosis can be—her first diagnosis was negative, which then led to a stage-two diagnosis and, later, a stage-four.

"The results read 'aggressive and extremely hormone-fed'," recalled Dupius. "Our world was turned upside down."

The doctor told her that she was not "curable" but she was "treatable and maintainable."

"With tears running down my face, I asked 'What about my family?' I can't leave my husband and my boys who are three and five. I can't leave them without a wife and mother," recalled Dupius, pausing to wipe away more tears.

But she continued to fight, never missing a doctor's appointment despite the long trips to Fargo during harsh winters.

After five years, she is still fighting, recently finding out her cancer has still been growing, albeit slowly.

"I count every day as a bonus and a blessing," said Dupius, "whether those days are good or bad."

Witt, the second Relay co-chair, echoed many of Dupius's sentiments, grateful for every day but also fearful her cancer, which was fortunately caught early enough and cured, will return.

The fear and uncertainty behind cancer is what makes Relay For Life, the chance for people to gather together in support, so important.

"I started relaying about 10 years ago," said Witt. "When I first came 10 years ago, there was just a handful of survivors here." This year, Witt estimated the survivor count around 100.

"We've come a long way with the relay," she said.

And with that, the crowd joined Dupius and Witt and the other Relay For Life organizers on the track to light the luminaries with "torches of hope" for loved ones lost to cancer.