ELKO — Toby Templeton released the balloons and watched them float into the cloudy night sky.
Tied to each balloon was a heartfelt letter to a family member who had died from cancer.
Templeton concentrated on the balloons until they became small specks in the distance and, despite being on the verge of crying, she wore a smile.
“Relay for Life is different (for me) every year, but everyone is here for the same reason,” Templeton said. “If you want to cry, you have someone who will cry with you. If you want to be happy, you have someone to be happy with you.”
Templeton was just one of the dozens of friends and family members who released letter-carrying balloons during the relay’s Messages to Heaven presentation on Friday.
“Cancer is such a devastating disease and we have to find a way (to cure it),” Templeton said, looking back at the group of people in the center of Elko High School’s Warrior Field. “Everyone here has been touched by cancer.”
After the presentation ended, Templeton returned to the tent she assembled along the field’s track.
Photos attached to wooden stakes were posted just outside her campsite.
“This is my photo garden,” Templeton said. “We post photos of the people we lost (to cancer) to honor them. Sadly, the garden gets bigger and bigger.”
Templeton said she lost a mother, two uncles and some friends to cancer.
Her brother, however, is a cancer survivor.
“I’m sad for (everyone I’ve lost), but I’m happy my brother and other (cancer survivors) are still alive,” she said.
Most — if not all — relay participants shared Templeton’s sentiment.
“We all have had someone that passed away because of cancer and we know people who are still fighting it,” said Maggie Canas, a member of the “Hope for the Future” relay team. “In the last two months alone, I’ve lost two more people.”
“Hope for the Future” is made up of four friends: Canas, Teresa Hankel, Belinda Benzie and Pat Cox. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the four members find comfort in their shared experiences with cancer.
“We have lunch all the time and we keep in touch, give each other support ... it’s a good bond,” Canas said.
The “Hope for the Future” relay team joined others in staying awake for the whole event, from 5 p.m. on Friday to 5 a.m. on Saturday.
“People say the reason you stay awake all night is to show support for those suffering with cancer,” Hankel said. “You’re supposed to feel pain — and you do.”
Cancer survivor Matt Helmke definitely felt the pain.
Helmke said he walked more than 90 laps around the track during the 12-hour relay.
“My feet are sore, I’m tired ... but this is about recovering,” Helmke said.
After completing chemotherapy earlier this year, Helmke decided to attend his first Relay for Life.
“This was something to do and something to help others,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is to help those who have to go through what I went through. It’s terrible. I wish I was the last one to have gone through that, but I’m not.”
After completing the relay, Helmke found satisfaction through the fundraiser.
“Now that this is over, I’m going to sign up today for the relay in Ely on July 13,” he said, grinning.