Cancer survivors and their families and caregivers enjoyed food, music and an inspiring story by a 12-year-old cancer survivor.
Rosanne Coleman, the survivor development coordinator for the North St. Clair County Relay for Life, enthused, “This is so wonderful that we can all come together and celebrate our lives and our defeat over our battle with cancer. It is great to see people doing so well.”
Coleman was diagnosed with cancer in November 2007. She went through treatments and has been cancer-free since April 2008.
Mary Ann Hardy of Odenville is a three-time cancer survivor. She started Friends Helping Friends Cancer Survivors and Supporters five years ago. They hold quarterly meetings and average more than 30 members at each meeting.
“Everybody enjoys coming together,” Hardy said. “We have music, food, door prizes and everyone looks forward to meeting with each other.”
Hardy has had three different types of cancer — cervical, colon and breast cancer — and she has beaten all three.
Gadsden’s Bayleigh Phillips was guest speaker at the survivor dinner Saturday. The 12-year-old has been a cancer survivor for three years, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006 when she was 9 years old.
“It is an honor to be able to come and speak to other cancer survivors,” Phillips said. “I hope they stay strong and will be happy with where they are, because God did this to all of us for a reason. I know God definitely has a plan for me.”
Phillips remains upbeat despite having 70 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy, every Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It was draining,” she said. “It seemed I had two cups of trouble and I was pouring it into one cup of faith and that was not working. It appeared my troubles were so much bigger than my faith. But, when I decided to pour my two cups of trouble into the ocean, which was created by God, my troubles became small. We have to know and understand that our God is truly that big and that powerful and He will take care of our troubles.”
Phillips summed up her speech by sharing words she lives by.
“Love generously, live simply, speak kindly and leave the rest to God. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Crystal Nelson of Springville is approaching her one-year anniversary of being a cancer survivor.
“It is very uplifting to be able to gather with other cancer survivors,” Nelson said. “For those of us who are still fighting the fight and not healed yet, we have others to lean on for support. These wonderful people do a great job putting this on for us and making us feel so special. I sure do appreciate it.”
Odenville’s Gail Whitten has been a cancer survivor since 2004.
“We all have so much to be thankful for,” Whitten said. “Caregivers are a great part of this, and it is such an encouragement to see all these folks who have survived and survived being caregivers. We are so thankful to be here. We have been through the third cycle of cancer, but we do look forward to every day because God is so gracious.”
DeAna Byrd said the survivor dinner was a time to honor and celebrate all of the survivors and their caregivers who have fought the difficult battle against cancer.
“It allows survivors and caregivers to connect with others in the community who have similar experiences,” Byrd said. “This year’s North St. Clair Relay for Life Survivor Committee did a wonderful job connecting with survivors and local businesses in order to make the dinner a huge success. I would like to thank all the local businesses that donated to this wonderful cause. In addition, I would like to thank the survivor committee for taking this dinner to heart and making it so special for all involved. We were able to honor 28 survivors tonight.”
Beth Schulz, public relations director for the North St. Clair County Relay for Life, said it was an honor and privilege to do this for her community.
“Before my mom was diagnosed with cancer, we would hear of those diagnosed in our community and think how terrible that was and pray they would be OK,” Schulz said. “As a community, we put them on prayer lists at churches and pray for their recovery. Once your family has been touched by cancer, you realize that these survivors and families need much more.”
Schulz said first, they need an opportunity to speak with others fighting the same battle for support. They also need to know they have not been given up on and they cannot give up themselves.
“We fight back by raising awareness, and raising money for the American Cancer Society so they can fund research for a cure,” Schulz said. “They also provide services for families and patients and education. But for me, I want a cure. I relay not only for my mother, who has done beautifully with her treatments and is in remission. But I also relay for those who I have met in the waiting rooms who are still struggling and those we have lost to this disease. I relay for those wonderful families in our community who are currently mourning for their loved ones lost. We have to let them know we will never forget the battle their loved ones fought. I also relay for my children, not only as a role model, but also because I do not want them to fight cancer in their lives.”
Schulz said to hear Bayleigh speak and share her strength and insight to life as a 12-year-old cancer survivor was the moment that made the whole event worthwhile.
“I will continue to help raise awareness and participation in our community,” Schulz said. “We will be raising money in front of the Springville Wal-Mart, April 10 and 17. All proceeds go to the American Cancer Society.”
The North St. Clair County Relay for Life starts at 6 p.m. April 30 at the Springville High School football field.