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Relay for Life has special meaning for Caledonia Tornadoes


Jason Browne



CALEDONIA -- The 54 members of Caledonia schools'' Relay For Life team don''t have to look far for reminders of what they''re marching for. 


Cancer has left an unforgettable mark at Caledonia Elementary, claiming the lives of two teachers in the last 10 years, taking the husband of an assistant teacher and touching two current kindergarten teachers. 


"It touches everybody''s lives. If you talk to anybody out here, they would tell you they know somebody or have lost a family member (to cancer)," said Brenda Spotts, head of the custodial department at Caledonia Elementary. 


Spotts is one of the organizers of the Caledonia Tornadoes, the school''s Relay For Life team, which takes its name from the 2008 storm that devastated the Caledonia schools'' campus. 


The name is a nod to the schools'' resilience. The Tornadoes will put that strength into action Saturday when the team holds its first fundraiser -- a two-tier yard sale/bake sale from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ola J. Pickett Park. 


Fifteen to 20 Tornadoes members will bring clothing, furniture and miscellaneous odds and ends for sale. On the bake sale end, Debbie Downs, the Caledonia assistant teacher whose husband, Perry Downs, succumbed to cancer nine years ago, will raffle off a 100-piece platter of homemade candy. 


The Tornadoes'' goal is to raise $5,000 for cancer research prior to the April 23 Relay For Life at the Magnolia Bowl in Columbus. Luminaria candle bags, which can be decorated and labeled in honor of a cancer victim or survivor, will also be available for purchase Saturday. 


In addition to remembering Perry Downs, the school will honor late fifth-grade teacher Jordan Brock, who passed in 2006 due to colon cancer, and late kindergarten teacher Kathy Moore, who was lost to cancer 10 years ago, with its contribution to the American Cancer Society, beneficiary of Relay For Life. 


But Caledonia''s acquaintance with cancer doesn''t stop there. Two current kindergarten teachers have recently battled the disease. Carolyn Perkins is now free of breast cancer, and Terri Boyer''s ovarian cancer is in arrest after surgery and chemotherapy. 


Perkins is a decorated veteran in the war against cancer, having fought the disease three times over the past 36 years. 


Her first bout began in 1974 while she was at the University of Alabama pursuing her teaching degree. 


"At 24 years old, that was really unheard of back then," she recalls of her diagnosis. "At 24 years old, you''re not thinking about death." 


Perkins'' first round with cancer led to the removal of one of her breasts, followed by 33 years of remission. But the cancer returned in 2007, leading to a round of radiation, and again in 2008, necessitating surgery and chemotherapy. 


"At this point I''m completely cured," says Perkins. "I''m fortunate. Only the good Lord knows what''s out there." 


Perkins credits her recent victories over cancer to early detection and the Lord''s will. Self-examinations and being in tune with her body''s natural cues also helped her respond to the disease quickly. 


"When you listen do your body and you know something''s not quite right, it''s time to get to the doctor," she said. 


Despite regular self-examinations, exercising and eating a healthy diet since her initial battle, Perkins'' cancer returned, illustrating the disease''s tenacity and unpredictability. And that''s why relentless cancer research is imperative. 


"Relay For Life is so important. So many people need that boost. Survivors not only need that camaraderie, but there''s so much research to be done with the money raised. Plus, there are other ways that Relay For Life helps that are so important," said Perkins. "(As a cancer survivor) it makes you want to turn around and contribute. Once you receive, you become a giver."




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