Salt River Journal

2-year-old leads cancer survivors' lap at Ralls County Relay For Life

“Princess” Hayden Wheatley, 2-year-old brain cancer survivor, leads the survivors' lap at the Ralls County Relay For Life on April 29.
By Bev Darr, Courier-Post Reporter
Posted: Apr. 30, 2017 6:28 pm

The heavy rain that caused flash flooding in the Hannibal area Saturday, April 29, undoubtedly kept some people home. However, a large crowd gathered at the Mark Twain High School in Center for the annual Ralls County Relay For Life.

Cancer survivors are honored with a special "survivors' lap," after the opening ceremony at the Relay. These survivors are usually adults, but this year they were led around the Relay route in the high school gym by 2-year-old Hayden Wheatley, a brain cancer survivor. "Princess Hayden" was pulled in a decorated wagon. Earlier, she had done several laps, walking with her special walker.

Hayden is the daughter of Nicole and Eric Wheatley of Hamilton, Ill., and granddaughter of Kathy and Bill Kayser of Perry. Her mother explained she was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 1 and had surgery in April 2016, and has also had four rounds of chemo and 33 of radiation.

Among the cancer survivors sharing their experiences was Margaret Colbert of Paris, a 12-year- survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She had six months of chemo and has been in remission since 2006.

Colbert had more reasons for helping the Relay raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Her husband, Donald, recently died March 20 from lung cancer, and 10 days later her brother-in-law, Robert Stewart of Mexico, Mo., died. He had been a skin cancer patient, but this did not cause his death.

She recently opened a photography business. Colbert was accompanied by her daughter Gwen Bailey of Paris. Colbert had advice for others: "Take it one day at a time, and if there has been been breast or ovarian cancer in the family, get the generic testing."

Connie Miller of New London was grateful to report she is in remission from breast cancer. She was diagnosed eight years ago and had surgery, chemo and radiation, with all her treatment at the James Cary Cancer Center in Hannibal. She praised Dr. Bari and Dr. Hirner. She lost her husband to lung cancer in 2003.

The Relay's fairy tale theme, "Happily Ever After," gave the individual teams an opportunity to exercise their creativity, such as by dressing as Peter Pan, Snow White, princesses and a fairy godmother. Julie Haynes of Monroe City was Peter Pan aa she painted children's faces.

The fairy godmother was Laura Leake, leader of the Relay, who honored many volunteers at the Relay prior to the first lap. She reported the ACS funded $8.2 in cancer research in 2016 in Missouri and thanked everyone for continuing to support this research.

The opening events included a flag ceremony by Bill Wright and Dan Carey of VFW Post 4088 in Perry, who explained they have done this each year the Ralls County Relay For Life has taken place.

Hundreds of luminarias were sold to honor cancer survivors and victims. They were placed in a rectangle in the gym, with the relay laps going around them.

In the center of the gym floor, a large castle was ready to be auctioned. It was made by students at Perry Christian Academy in Perry, including Bailee Ward, Rachel Hodges and Chloe Hodges.

In addition to the items sold at the booths in the high school gym, drawings took place, and a silent auction also raised funds for the American Cancer Society. Kathryn McDaniel, area leader of the ACS, expressed appreciation for all who attended the Relay despite the heavy rain and chance of flooding.

See photo gallery for more pictures.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at


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