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‘Hope for everyone’

Hundreds covered Clanton City Park’s football field Friday night for the 16th annual Chilton County Relay for Life.

A record 130-plus survivors were introduced to the crowd as each told their name, type of cancer, and number of years as a survivor. Each one was applauded as they lined up for the ceremonial first lap to kick off Relay.

“Everything has gone great,” event chairman Robert Griffin said. “We have had a lot of positive comments, and a lot of good participation.”

Among the survivors were Todd Chambers of Clanton and Jody Miller of Calera, who discovered a special reason to cheer each other on — they both suffer from leiomyosarcoma, one of the world’s rarest forms of cancer.

“I’m here to give Todd hope because I’ve been surviving for 12 years,” Miller said into the microphone during the survivor introductions.

Leiomyosarcoma, a form of cancer that attacks smooth muscles, represents just one 1/100 of 1 percent of all the world’s cancers. It is so rare, there is not much money spent on research. It was an American Cancer Society grant, however, that funded the discovery of some of the most recent treatments for the disease.

Miller, diagnosed in 1997, was initially given a maximum of five years to live, but she is living proof that one can defy the odds.

“Even though you might get bad news in the beginning, it’s a battle. It’s a fight,” said Miller, who serves as Calera’s Relay for Life chairperson and was the guest speaker for Friday night’s survivors reception.

Miller is also one of 25 Heroes of Hope for the American Cancer Society’s Mid-South Division.

Chambers, diagnosed in 2007, said Miller is the only other person he has met with leiomyosarcoma.

“It’s just overwhelming to see all the support we have here,” Chambers said. “Without the support, it would be a harder battle to fight.”

Miller offered a few words of encouragement as the survivors lined up to make the first lap around the track.

“When you begin this first lap tonight, the people will cheer you because (as survivors) you are the hope of everyone,” she said.