Thousands show up Friday for the 20th Annual Yellowstone County Relay for Life

2014-07-11T20:51:00Z 2014-07-25T15:40:10Z Thousands show up Friday for the 20th Annual Yellowstone County Relay for LifeBy NICK BALATSOS The Billings Gazette

The T-shirts told the tales.

They were worn by many of the survivors, families and volunteers who showed up Friday for the American Cancer Society's 20th Annual Yellowstone County Relay for Life. 

In swaths of red, yellow, blue and purple, people funneled into the fields of West High to show their support for cancer survivors and raise money and awareness for research. 

As of Friday night, 197 teams and 1,631 participants had raised at least $426,638.09, exceeding organizers' goals.

For Wells Fargo volunteers Patty Struck and Kay Hare, that's what their red T-shirts symbolized: support. 

Struck, who is now retired after working at the bank for 19 years as a mail clerk, said she knew she wanted to get involved after doctors diagnosed her neighbor, a close friend, with cancer.

"If you don't have each other, you have nothing," she said, adding that her neighbor was there to walk the survivor loop.

Hare agreed. She also said it was nice to see so many other red shirts. She said it signified that her "employer supports the community and is involved." 

The pair, together with other volunteers, raised money through basket raffles and garage sales. They said one garage sale organized by Wells Fargo raised $1,600. 

Teresa Bessette, 63, a retired Billings teacher, said the colors signaled solidarity — that people had been through what she had, that she wasn't alone, that the fear she had felt was felt by many. 

"I'm still here to walk the survivor loop ... I wasn't sure I would be," she said.

When Bessette first started coming to the relays, she said she cried more than she smiled. 

Bessette was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. At the time she was living in Austin, Texas. She said when she got the news she was overcome by fear. "I wasn't sure I'd be able to raise Nick," she said, referring to her son. But with time those fears passed. 

Now, 17 years later, Bessette lives in Montana again. Even when she lived in Texas she said she'd often come to Montana for the relay because it's home for her. 

On Friday, she walked not only because she was a survivor but also to show her support and give hope to the people on the sidelines battling cancer. 

She pointed to the words on the back of her purple shirt: 

"I am strong. I am hope. I am a survivor."

That's me, she said. 

The event was set to continue into the morning, with laps, silent auctions, performances by an Elvis impersonator and even fireworks. The closing ceremony was scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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