BONHAM — Relay for Life of Fannin County celebrated cancer survivors, caregivers and the efforts of fundraising teams who partnered with the organization in Bonham on Saturday.


More than 500 participants filled the Fannin County Multipurpose Complex for the event, which featured symbolic walks around the facility, food for all, testimonies from survivors, raffles and a silent auction.


“This is a big party where we celebrate the survivors, remember the ones that we’ve lost and honor the caregivers,” Relay for Life of Fannin County Community Manager Teri Tolbert said. “It’s a kind of celebration of the months of preparation and fundraising that the teams have been doing. It’s just a time to come together.”


Tolbert and organization co-chair Debbie Vest said over the last year or so, members of the area cancer community, local businesses and other supporters banded together to form 40 fundraising teams that successfully met the goal of raising more than $44,000 for the American Cancer Society. With their financial goal achieved, Vest said she and other group leaders have challenged the teams to raise an additional $10,000 — a figure she was confident they would reach.


“We’re here trying to raise money that will go on to save lives,” Vest said.


The Relay for Life co-chair said the group was also using its weekend event to let people know that their individual experiences with cancer, no matter how brief, still bind them to the larger cancer community.


“Sometimes, people are timid and feel like their cancer was not severe enough or they aren’t worthy of being called a survivor,” Vest said. “We’ve heard that a lot, so we’re trying to warm those feelings up a bit today. And the same goes for caregivers. A lot of caregivers who have a loved one that is no longer with them think they’re no longer caregivers. That’s just not true.”


Sarah Brogan attended the Relay for Life event with her family and proudly wore a purple shirt with the word “survivor” printed in white letters on the back. Brogan said her world was turned upside down in 2011 when an annual wellness exam and biopsy led to a diagnosis of cervical cancer.


“It was very nerve-wracking,” Brogan said. “I thought, ‘Am I going to die?’ “


Brogan said her treatment was successful and she considers herself fortunate to be cancer-free today. Having only been involved with Relay for Life for two years, Brogan said she thinks of herself as a newcomer to the group but values the connection to other cancer survivors the events have provided her.


“Even though you know they’re out there, it’s just a nice feeling when you see that you’re not alone,” Brogan said.


Jennifer Dooley said she assumed the role of cancer caregiver when her best friend was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2007. With her friend’s battle against the disease still on-going, Dooley said she assists her with tasks around the home. She said her friend’s cancer has been difficult for both to come to terms with, but it has ultimately strengthened their bond.


“We’ve become a lot closer,” Dooley said. “We’re more like sisters now.”


The cancer caregiver said her intimate view into the hardships of the disease and the stories shared by those involved with Relay for Life have given her a new perspective on life — one that she is thankful for and hopes others will take to heart.


“You don’t take things for granted as much,” Dooley said. “You learn to take each day as it comes, do things one step at at time and to enjoy what there is in this life.”