NEWBERRY — As members of the Relay for Life Community in Newberry County look back over the past 20 years of relays, they look forward to a future where cancer does not take such a toll on its victims.
Some, like long-time volunteer Emma Crump, started helping the American Cancer Society with its crusade for Newberry County, an advocacy event prior to Newberry having a Relay for Life.
For others, their own bout with cancer or that of a loved one inspired them to join the movement, which has grown to include 50 teams and 465 participants.
For pancreatic cancer patient Peggy Boozer, involvement in Relay for Life began in 1997 when her husband, Frank, was treated for lung cancer.
“Frank went for the first time that year,” she said. “He had been doing chemo at the time for the lung cancer and Dr. Brenda Carroll had a group of her patients to go.”
The only year she missed since was 1998 due to back surgery but even that year she sat on the top of the Newberry High School bleachers to watch the luminary service and hear names called.
“I spent two full nights there (back in the day) and never really got sleepy. I stayed up and helped our team members walk all night,” she said.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2012, her prognosis was for three months, but instead, she’s what her doctor calls a medical miracle. The cancer has gone dormant. It’s not remission, but nothing has changed and he has no medical explanation.
This year, health permitting, she plans to walk the survivor’s lap to honor her son-in-law, a prostate cancer survivor and her nephew who survived aggressive testicular cancer.
“It may be slow, but I plan to go,” she said.
Boozer, as many at the relay, wants to use her presence to share her story and inspire other patients.
The same is true of St. Philip’s Lutheran Church team member Susan Smith. Smith became involved with relay for life in 2007 when she was diagnosed, at age 41, with Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Doctors discovered a six inch by six inch softball-sized tumor between her lungs.
The cancer spread to both lungs, her hip bone, abdominal wall, liver and kidney. Given just two years to live, Smith now has been in remission for seven years.
“God healed me (in just seven months of chemo versus the two years doctors had prepared for her). I share that story of inspiration to give hope to those who have little hope and to help them never give up,” she said. “So, in that way I am hope to people who have cancer (and I a grateful to the Relay for Life for its role in helping me learn and share that message). I am a miracle. Chemo played a big part as did the doctors and staff at Duke University and S.C. Oncology. I feel like God helped the doctors get me through this.”
The year Smith had cancer the St. Philip’s team raised over $7,000.
For two to three years she was team captain for St. Philip’s Lutheran Church and gave so much of herself to the cause that she realized for her body’s good she needed to step back and become a team member instead.
“I was tired so I listened to my body and took a break, but I was still walking and buying luminaries,” she said.
Now she is back with St. Philip’s team and looks forward to walking the survivor’s lap and to her husband and mother walking beside her, the caregivers who stood beside her the most.
For Ellie Wise, a participant the majority of the 20 years, Relay honors a victory of sorts. Wise’s late husband, Jimmy, lived 15 years with lung cancer. The cancer did not take his life but a combination of other health complications did so.
In that way, she said her husband actually beat the lung cancer and his legacy continues to inspire her to participate.
“I walked in the relay with my husband as long as he was able. The final year he participated he rode on a scooter but he was determined to be there no matter how he was feeling,” Wise said. “Over the years the number of people participating has increased as has the amount of money raised.”
She should know because her daughter, Melinda Long, helps each year with the official money count at the relay.
Originally Ellie Wise walked for the Wise Barbecue team but now she walks for the Pomaria C.A.P. team for the youth at St. Johns/Pomaria parish.
“I so enjoy going. You get to know a lot of people on different teams, particularly those with tents set up next to yours so it is kind of like a family reunion with your “neighbors,” Wise said.
Emma Crump, a member of the 50 Friends group’s Relay for Life team, has participated since 1994. Prior to that she helped with the American Cancer Society’s Crusade for Newberry County along with Winnie Davenport Senn and others.
“I remember our first year on the field the music was loud and the neighbors called the police to complain. They did not know about Relay for Life and assumed we were rowdy kids up to no good,” she said and chuckled. “Well, they all know about Relay for Life now and we have gotten great support from the sheriff’s department and city police every year since (1994).”
Area churches, community members, most of the area schools are all involved now. She is thankful for the contributions of so many in that effort, especially Carol Thompson, Kim Lander, Jackie Long and this year’s event coordinator Robbiette Hazel.
“In a way, I am addicted (to this cause),” she said. “I want to work with it as long as I am able to help people realize what we are all about, helping fund research that will lead to a cure for cancer.”
She said the American Cancer Society has done great work to improve cancer treatments and reduce morbidity and mortality rates.
Her 50 Friends group began independently of the Relay for Life whereby 50 friends in the African-American community came together with the goal that each one raise $50 to make a difference in the community. The group, including Nancy Dawkins, Lily Pratt, Mary Tyler, Aida Davis, and the Rev. Edward J. Means, chose the American Cancer Society as the group to benefit.
In each of the past five years they have raised $20,000 per year for the American Cancer Society. But the 50 Friends group, Crump said, is quick to direct attention back to the Relay for Life teams as a whole and the relay committee’s team effort.
Each Relay for Life team member is encouraged to raise $100 or more to go toward the cause.
“We started off just trying to make the (Helena and Newberry) community a better place and help keep everybody well because there is not a family i can think of whom cancer has not touched,” she said.
At the start she said the Relay teams camped out on the field but in recent years Relay changed because there was not enough space for enclosed tents. She said that was a good problem to have and shows how people in Newberry are becoming more active in the fight against cancer.
Relay for Life starts tonight at 6 p.m. at Mike Ware Field.
The survivor’s lap is at 7 p.m. and luminary ceremony is around 10 p.m. A children’s parade where children will walk a lap and then present cancer survivors with crafts they made at the relay begins at 9 p.m.