Ever since they married years ago, Tommy and Diane Morris have walked everywhere hand-in-hand, an ongoing expression of love.

They arrived at the Aiken Relay For Life benefit at South Aiken High School on Friday and were soon holding hands on the track. Soon afterward, Tommy was walking without her, but not alone during a single lap.

He joined scores of others, all with the purple T-shirts that designates and celebrates them as cancer survivors. Tommy was diagnosed with a pervasive form of cancer in 2010, “And the doctors told me I had five years to live.” Devastated, Diane said she and her husband dropped down and prayed, and “With God's help, I'm here and will continue to be here as cancer-free,” Tommy said.

“He's my walking miracle,” Diane added.

The annual benefit brought well over 1,000 people to South Aiken's football field – survivors, their families and friends and others who wanted to support them and the American Cancer Society's research efforts and the programs the organization provides.

Amber Holcomb and Paula Turner coordinated the Relay for the second time. Like nearly everyone, they have encountered cancer in their families. Turner lost her mother seven years ago.

“My mother is able to be here as a breast cancer survivor,” Holcomb said. “She is on the committee here with us as a part of Relay For Life. This is our passion.”

In addition to research initiatives, the American Cancer Society provides Hope Lodge facilities throughout the country. Cancer patients and family members can stay at a lodge after traveling for the patient's treatment.

After a number of disruptive incidents during the 2013 event, Relay organizers arranged for those not directly involved in the event to register this year and wear bracelets before entering the stadium. Four paid officers from the City of Aiken Public Safety attended Relay as well.

Much to his surprise, Public Safety Lt. Brian Key was assigned to be a team captain at the event – a role he found especially moving. He was diagnosed with a blood cancer a year ago and traveled with his wife Lynitta to Charleston for tests.

“We actually stayed at the Hope Lodge there,” Key said. “I didn't expect to directly benefit, and I appreciate (Relay) a lot more. I didn't know (the American Cancer Society) sponsors Hope Lodges, and (I) didn't know about all the research.”

All of Shirley Abney's friends know her vivid smile well, and an enthusiasm to match. An eight-year survivor, her smile gets bigger at Relay every year.

“I love coming, knowing I will be uplifted,” Abney said. “I have so much in common with everybody out there who supports Relay.”

A highlight of the event was the luminary service after dark. Families arranged for luminaries to be in place around the football field. The stadium lights were turned off, leaving only the luminaries remaining in a circle of light as hundreds of names were called out.

“It's our time to honor all survivors and memorialized those we've lost to cancer,” said Holcomb.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.