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Cancer society fundraiser twirls its way to top

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

An annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society has danced its way to popularity and is now poised to break its own record in donations.

When the doors open at the eighth annual Lourdes' Dancing With Our Stars on Saturday night, the event will have already raised $158,000 for the fight against cancer - $8,000 more than it began with last year, coordinator Rita Bailey said. By its conclusion, last year's event brought in about $220,000.

"I'm feeling good about that. The stars have worked really hard," she said.

The 20 dancers participating in the event have been practicing their dance moves and raising money for the cause since September. Their months of work will pay off when they take to the dance floor in front of a sold-out crowd of 750 people at Harrah's Metropolis Hotel and Casino. The top fundraisers and the top three dancers will be honored at the event, along with this year's "superstar," two-time cancer survivor Freddie Hicks.

It's rare to find a participant who doesn't have a personal connection to the cause.

Chuck Sexton, director of economic development at Paducah Economic Development, said his mother, Elizabeth Sexton, succumbed to the disease about three years ago. After fighting a successful battle with breast cancer, another tumor showed up in her spine, he said.

"She was just 50 years old and it was a struggle watching her fight," he said. "I've always been passionate about finding new ways to support those who are battling (cancer), as well as raising money for the American Cancer Society to conduct research into new forms of treatment and cures for cancer."

Sexton added that his mother underwent treatment at Lourdes hospital, and he continues to be grateful for the quality of care she received.

"She loved the nursing staff. My father still goes and sees them. ... They're some of the greatest people I've ever met," he said.

Dance instructor Joanie Plumer, who will serve as the dance partner on Saturday for two of the male contestants, had a prophylactic mastectomy in 2011 after losing a sister to breast cancer. She's participated in the event as a dancer in past years, and said it always turns out to be a special night.

"It's kind of magical to me. Everyone's dressed up in their finest," she said. "I feel honored to be a part of something this big."

Bailey said the Lourdes Relay for Life team ranks No. 1 overall in Kentucky and No. 3 overall in the world.

Although the bulk of the money has already been raised, funds will continue to trickle in the night of the event through silent auction bids and other donations, Bailey added. Bidding for the silent auction - which brought in a record $100,000 in donated items - began online this week.

Those unable to attend can still bid on auction items or donate to stars or partners online at www.acsdwos.org.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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