By Sherrie Norris
When nearly 200 cancer survivors —along with their closest family members and caregivers — gather in one location, there will inevitably be a lot of smiles, tears, hugs and words of encouragement spoken.
Tuesday evening’s Relay for Life Survivor Dinner and Celebration proved all that to be true — and that was just the beginning!
Hosted annually by Watauga County Relay for Life, the event was held once again at the Family Life Center of Greenway Baptist Church in Boone where 180 registered survivors joined together to celebrate their victories.
Current Relay for Life Chair Bryan Barker provided welcoming remarks, expressing gratitude for all involved, including his hardworking committee, teams, corporate sponsors, media, staff partners, volunteers and especially, the survivors — “Our reason to Relay,” he emphasized.
Also present at the dinner was American Cancer Society representative
Lee Bogle, who serves as Relay For Life Community Manager and is helpful in coordinating related events in the region.
During another delicious dinner provided in partnership with Outback Steakhouse in Blowing Rock, special music was presented by Barney Hodgson and Gary Waters, members of the band Silverstone, which will also be performing at the upcoming Relay for Life in June.
Presenting the inaugural Sue & Hugh Tilson Award for longstanding commitment and service to Relay for Life, past event chairs Glenda Hodges and Sharon Sweeting honored Greenway Baptist Church and Outback Steakhouse with plaques of appreciation.
Church Pastor, Darrell Hobbs, his wife, Pam Hobbs, and Anthony Bowling, manager of Outback, were on hand to receive the awards.
“Without these two groups, this dinner for our survivors would not be possible each year,” said Barker.
Keynote speaker for the survivor’s celebration was Karen Hastings of Boone. A devoted Christian, wife, mother and grandmother, Hastings shared how her faith, family and friends helped her through an initial diagnosis of colon cancer in July 1999; surgery followed — and then, a short time later, she learned that she also had liver cancer.
Having served on the board of directors for Watauga Medical Center when the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center was built, Hastings spoke of how comforting it was to be able to receive care initially in her hometown.
However, seeking more intensive medical attention for the liver cancer, Hastings and her family discovered an expert at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who referred her back to one of three surgeons he had trained, who then was at Duke University Medical Center in Durham.
In September that same year, Hastings underwent an eight-hour liver resection, followed by chemotherapy, starting in November.
“We were told that the treatments would take a year, but I didn’t want to spend a year receiving chemotherapy, so I went for treatments every day for a week, each month, for six months,” she said.
She recalled crying in her doctor’s office three weeks after surgery, telling him that she wasn’t feeling any better. “He reminded me that I had had major surgery and that it might take a little while.”
Her recovery did go well, she said; follow-up scans came back clear, and have been clear since that time. Two years ago, though, she required another surgical procedure to remove an imbedded polyp from her colon. “But, thankfully, no cancer!”
During a follow-up colonoscopy last year, however, she decided to make an appointment for her husband. “Jim hadn’t been feeling quite right, so we thought it wouldn’t hurt for him to have a colonoscopy, even though he had had one about six years earlier.”
The result: Colon cancer. “He had a less intrusive robotic surgery, and fortunately, did not require any treatments. He still doesn’t feel very well, but is scheduled for more follow-up tests next month.”
Now celebrating her 20th year cancer free, Karen Hastings said she is “blessed,” and tries to make the most of every day she is given.
It is important, she stressed during her speech, that everyone do all they can to prevent cancer — schedule routine health screenings, exercise, eat right and get plenty of rest.
Following the event, Hastings shard with HCP that her “first recognition with cancer” occurred when she was a child. “My mother had throat cancer and was told to go home and make her plans, that she probably wouldn’t live a year.” Her mother lived many years after that, she said.
In the meantime, she, too, began to make her “plans,” visited those long-lost relatives and made sure all relationships and personal business were intact.
“In some cases, you can defy those odds,” she said with a smile.
Relay for Life June 1
Barker shared information about the 25th Annual Watauga County Relay for Life, scheduled for Friday, June 14, at Watauga High School.
Be watching High Country Press for more information about this event as more details are made available in coming weeks.