ORION PERRY

Orion Perry

At a Relay for Life walk in Front Royal today, a local #GoldTogether for childhood cancer team will honor 8-year-old Orion Perry, who has been battling leukemia.

The team is organized by Rita Werner, a second-grade teacher at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, where Orion is in second grade.

Orion was diagnosed with cancer in the summer before his first grade year.

Werner and other educators learned of his battle when he started treatments and was missing a lot of school. They organized a fundraiser for him and his family, she said. This year, she decided to honor him as a superhero during the town’s annual Relay for Life event.

He and his friends will get to wear gold superhero capes, she said, and team #GoldTogether will carry a banner.
 
His friends and family plan to take a lap with Orion to honor and celebrate him.

Orion is still receiving treatments once a month, but Werner, who teaches across the hall from his classroom, said he’s made significant improvements and was able to attend school more consistently this year.

“He’s doing great,” she said. “He’s such a happy, happy young man.”

Relay For Life is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and this year it is partnering with the #GoldTogether movement that started in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2017.

The movement has grown to more than 150 teams, which all “support childhood cancer research, support services and awareness, as well as cancer prevention efforts targeting children,” their website explains at www.goldtogether.com.

An estimated 11,060 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in American children age 14 and younger in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. In that same age group, 1,190 deaths from childhood cancer are expected to occur this year.

Though the cancer death rate has dropped by 27% from its peak in 1991, the organization estimates that this year in Virginia, 45,440 persons will be diagnosed with cancer and 15,200 will die.

Relay for Life is staffed and coordinated by volunteers in more than 20 countries worldwide with 5,200 events. Relays feature a survivor's lap and luminaria ceremony after sunset. Participants walk a track circled by glowing luminaria bearing names of loved ones lost to cancer and those fighting cancer. Luminaria are $10 each.

In Front Royal, Relay team members take turns walking the track at Skyline High School, 151 Skyline Drive, continuously from 4 p.m. to midnight Saturday.

Food, entertainment, games, music, Zumba and other activities will help keep participants energized.

Relay for Life of Front Royal is poised to have its best fundraising year yet. Exceeding its original $100,000 goal, more than $185,000 has been raised so far.

Team “A Ray of Hope” has raised close to $57,000, and Team 'Family Affair' has raised $30,665, Vivienne Stearns-Elliott, of the American Cancer Society, stated in a news release.

“This record fundraising is, in large part, thanks to the weekly American Cancer Society bingo games at the Front Royal Fire and Rescue Hall every Wednesday evening,” she stated.

The local #GoldTogether team also has been popular, and Werner said new members were continuing to sign up in the last days before the walk. She didn’t know how many members her team had so far but said the team includes teachers, students and members of Orion’s family.

The team will also be offering free children’s activities at the event, she said.

Werner has participated in Relay for Life since 2003, a year after her father died from cancer. She said she’s been on the local planning committee for a few years, but just started a #GoldTogether team this year.

“We got started kind of late because we just heard about it,” she said.

“The money raised will go to [fighting] pediatric cancer,” she said. “I would like for us to hit $1,000.”

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This story has been updated to correct some figures: An estimated 11,060 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in American children age 14 and younger in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. In that same age group, 1,190 deaths from childhood cancer are expected to occur this year.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com