Saturday evening in downtown Mexico was a day for celebration, but also remembrance, as teams participated in the annual Audrain County Relay for Life.

While team members were walking laps around the downtown square, other team members continued fundraising efforts through selling various food items, such as baked goods, hot dogs, funnel cakes, baked potatoes with toppings and Dippin' Dots brand ice cream. Money raised by the teams goes toward supporting cancer research and two Hope Lodges for those going through treatment in Kansas City or St. Louis.

Cancer survivors took a special lap during the evening's celebrations and commemorations. A member of the event organizing committee read names of survivors as they took their lap. Luminaries recognizing survivors and those who died were set up along the sidewalk surrounding the Audrain County Courthouse. A special section of luminaries were placed around the Missouri Exercise Tiger Army and Navy Anchor Memorial in recognition of those who had served in the military, regardless of cancer diagnosis.

Wayne Nolan, who was featured in a profile by The Mexico Ledger, was honored by Audrain County Relay for Life as Survivor of the Year. Radwan Khozouz, Nolan's oncologist, has seen the profile and plans to use it as an encouragement tool for other patients, Nolan's wife, Sue, said.

Nolan, who was given a prognosis of eight months after his chronic lymphocytic leukemia morphed into Richter's Transformation, is going on year two. Nolan receives a immune therapy infusion approximately every three weeks, which is keeping the aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at bay.

He spoke after the survivor's and caregivers' relay laps about his treatment, his life and encouraged others to eliminate cancer-causing practices in their lives like smoking.

"I want to acknowledge two people who have encouraged me to tell my story. One, of course, is Doris Schutte and the other will be Bill Reid," Nolan said.

There is no answer to why older men are now being affected by cancer diagnoses from those who served during the Vietnam War, he said. When his doctors started sending blood work testing to labs in Virginia when he was going through leukemia treatments, Nolan said he thought the diagnosis was not going to be good.

"I'm really pleased I went with the [Veterans Administration]. I can't say enough good about the VA," he said.

Nolan was in Vietnam when Agent Orange was used as a scorched earth tactic to remove vegetation. Nolan drove trucks that transported Agent Orange and said that anyone who was near it could have been affected by it.

"When you're 19 years old and they fly over you with a plane and it squirts stuff all over you, you don't think anything of it. You think you're going to live forever when you're 19, anyway," Nolan said about his time in Vietnam.

He is pleased to be considered a fighter, he said. He credits God, the VA and his doctors for allowing him to fight in the first place. "My real heroes are the people here today that have each one of these tents that want to knock this disease down,” he said. “It's time to knock it down, stomp on it and kick its butt, because we've put up with it long enough.”

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com