Michael Mason doesn't have to do things anymore.
He wants to.
After surviving cancer, his outlook on life has changed. Now, it's about how he is still able to coach his daughter's soccer team.
Mason was one of 200 cancer survivors who came to the Clark Relay for Life at Arthur L. Johnson High School Friday night. In an all-night relay, Mason, along with more than one thousand other relayers walked around the track to show their solidarity against the disease.
"The next 12 hours will take us on a life-affirming journey, symbolizing a day in the life of someone fighting cancer, a disease that never sleeps" said Cindy Kraus, a cancer survivor who hosted the opening ceremony.
According to the American Cancer Society, 53 individuals are diagnosed with cancer weekly in Union County. Nineteen people die weekly from cancer in the county.
Though the numbers are shocking, the death rate from cancer has decreased since 1993, showing hope for the cause, Kraus said.
Dr. Cynara Coomer, a Fox News contributor and cancer survivor, was the keynote speaker for the event, connecting with all the mothers in the crowd.
Coomer was diagnosed with cancer only a few weeks after her daughter Olivia was born, she said. She wondered if she was going to be around to watch her grow.
But Coomer's resiliency proved true as she beat the disease.
After the opening ceremony concluded, the relay began with a survivor’s lap – complete with a standing ovation from the crowd. After, their caregivers were asked to join them.
By the third round, everyone was on the track in an act of solidarity to fight cancer.
“We’re here to fight cancer,” said Robin Brown, a cancer survivor. “We’re here to celebrate more birthdays, and we’re all here to make it happen as a family.”
As of Friday morning, the relay raised $124,000 in donations that will go to the American Cancer Society. Ruthanne Brown, an American Cancer Society volunteer, said that number is supposed to exponentially grow once the relay is done.
Brown said Clark’s Relay is the biggest out of Union, Essex and Hudson counties, and it continues to grow every year.
“The atmosphere is great, everybody is ready to party. It’s great,” Brown said. “We have all these survivors in one place and I think it’s really good because it reminds them they aren’t alone in the cancer they go through.”
No one was alone Friday night. The event epitomized community as people of all ages walked in support of a common cause. People united, and Brown said it was simply “amazing.”
“Cancer survivors have a lot of company, and there are people here who understand what they are going through because they are going through it themselves,” Brown said.