AVON PARK — Enjoy a carnival — complete with games, food, inflatables and raffles — at Avon Park High School from 4-10 p.m. Saturday, April 13 and support life-saving cancer research for people struggling with cancer in Highlands County.

Besides research, the money also supports free rides to chemo and a cancer helpline that is available 24 hour a day, seven days a week.

The Highlands County Relay for Life event will begin with an opening prayer by Avon Park City Mayor Garrett Anderson, followed by Carl Gillilan singing the national anthem and Avon Park Air Force JROTC presenting the colors. Cancer survivors and their caregivers will walk the first lap around the track and be treated to a survivor and caregiver reception. Nonstop fun and activities will keep the party going as DJ Ralph keeps the music flying through the air waves.

Tonya Ferguson Chams, an emergency room nurse and one of the committee members for the Highlands County Relay for Life, said, “Originally, I was just wanting to form a team to participate in the relay. When I was informed that Highlands County has not held a Relay for Life in three years, I told a few friends of mine, and we decided to try to take on this daunting task of hosting a Relay for Life. Although none of us has tried this before, we are hoping you will join us and make this a success!”

Chams was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 33 years old and 29 weeks pregnant. “On Dec. 10, 2016 I received the news no one wants to hear. I had a complete bowel obstruction due to a tumor in my colon,” she said. “The baby was pushing up just enough for the tumor to block my colon. I can remember the doctor telling me that I had cancer. When he was finished telling me and my husband what he had found, I can remember thanking him as he went to leave the room. He just sighed and said, ‘Sweetie, you are not welcome. I wish I never had to give you this news.’

“I was soon rushed off to Florida Hospital Orlando to undergo emergency surgery,” Chams said. “Yes, while still pregnant, I was facing major abdominal surgery.”

As a newlywed, Chams heard this horrific news with her husband, who had lost his former wife of 21 years to lung cancer two years prior. She had to explain her cancer diagnosis to her 10-year-old daughter and three stepchildren, who had lost their mother to cancer.

“This diagnosis was so unfair, so wrong ... not only to me, but to all those in my immediate life,” Chams said. “I had no symptoms before all of this. I was a newlywed and expecting a new baby. Everything was so perfect, and my dream became a nightmare with only three words, ‘You have cancer.’

“In the days to come, I had many medical complications that led to the premature birth of my daughter (she was born weighing 2 lbs., 11 ozs.),” Chams said. “I went into septic shock, and almost died. My journey has not become any easier over the past two years, but I am still fighting.

“This community is small and very tight knit,” Chams said. “We all pull together and support each other in times of need. We also all know someone that has been affected by this horrible disease. So now I am coming to you and asking that we all come together to help support not only those diagnosed with cancer, but also the caregivers that go through this illness along with those diagnosed. The American Cancer Society helps to support not only the patients, but also their caregivers as well.

“Our small community has undergone many tragedies over the past year, and we have come together in support for each other. Now let’s come together once more. However this time we can come together for some fun, while showing our love for each other. I feel that our community deserves this after the year we have endured.”

There are many opportunities to contribute to the effort. “We are looking for sponsors of many kinds,” Chams said. “We also need teams to sign up. Teams can be made up of business employees, church groups, community groups, or just a bunch of friends that want to get together and have fun while raising money for the American Cancer Society. If you’re not able to be a sponsor or form a team, don’t worry. This event is open to the public. Just mark your calendars for April 13th from 4 to 10 pm and come to Avon Park High School and join in on the fun.”

For more information or to register for the survivor reception, contact Brenda Anderson at 863-449-0739 or visit the website at www.relayforlife.org/highlandscountyfl.

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