George Pappas has suffered an uncommon price to earn the title of honorary chairman of the American Cancer Society's annual Spring Hill Relay for Life, which begins today.
Since 1991, Pappas has endured cancers of the prostate, kidney, bladder, skin and stomach and now is facing terminal lung cancer. Of his prognosis, the 86-year-old on Thursday said unemotionally, "Several months."
He added, "I've been suspecting something like this since I was diagnosed with lung cancer."
Pappas, a resident of the assisted living facility at Forest Oaks Care Center, has been involved with the Relay for Life fundraiser for 10 years. He began after cancer claimed his wife, Agnes, the same year he was first diagnosed. He has served in various capacities with the local relay's volunteer organization, including chairman of the survival committee.
Pappas will be the top honoree at the survivor reception at 4:30 p.m. today at Nature Coast Technical High School. Survivors will trek the relay's opening lap on the school track at 6 p.m., followed by a specialty lap designated for cancer caregivers.
Picking up the pace will be 51 volunteer teams of six to 10 members each, at least one member of the team staying on the track for a continuous 18 hours, until noon Saturday.
"Cancer doesn't sleep, so why should we?" said one of the organizers, Jean Harberts of the ACS Florida office. This relay's aim, rather than miles, is to maintain a trekking presence for 18 hours, Harberts said.
At 9 p.m., when stadium lights will be turned off, luminarias will be lit to commemorate loved ones who have died with cancer. The luminarias are sponsored by those who continue to share their memories of the deceased and still pursue cures for the dreaded disease.
To overcome any despondency, fun, food, games and socializing for the participants will begin at 10 p.m. "You get such a warm, fuzzy feeling from this," noted ACS spokeswoman Harberts.
In a kids' walk at 9 a.m. Saturday, youths will join adults on the track.
This is one of 14 relays among 386 in the state that has been singled out as a research site for a cancer prevention study. The American Cancer Association is seeking volunteers age 30 to 65, non-cancerous, to answer questionnaires every two years regarding the local environment, family history, genetics and lifestyle.
The study is to continue for 20 years. Volunteers can sign up 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. today at the main tent aside the track.
Visitors are welcome to view the relay, applaud the walkers and pick up informational brochures about cancer and the various thrusts to combat it.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]