Relay For Life Hosts Annual Survivor Luncheon

Each year the Troup County Relay for Life team hosts a banquet for local cancer survivors and their caregivers to celebrate life and to give hope to the recently diagnosed.

Though they are painfully aware that some of their friends and loved ones won’t be walking back through the doors to next year’s banquet, it’s the ones that come back year after year that give them hope that cancer is survivable.

The annual banquet features a complementary lunch for cancer survivors and their caregivers, along with entertainment from local musicians and survivor stories.

This year’s banquet meal perfectly reflected the theme of “Give Cancer the Boot” with southern barbeque prepared by event organizer, Raquel Neal. Faith Baptist Church on Hammett Road hosted the luncheon.

Everyone involved in the event has been touched by cancer in some way, whether they are caregivers, cancer survivors, or simply have felt the horrible pain to losing loved ones to cancer.

The emcee for the banquet, Michael Jones, is also a cancer survivor. He kept the event moving with lighthearted jokes, but he also offered a bit of hope to attendees. Jones reminded them that there is hope beyond the diagnosis, pointing out that he is proud to be cancer free for 13 years.

Key speaker Amanda Rhye gave her survivor story and explained how her cancer diagnosis as a child ruined a family vacation, but ended up leading her to the love of her life.

Amanda advised that when she was 11 years old, her family had been planning big summer vacation to visit relatives in Texas. She had been feeling tired lately and had some unexplained bruising, so her parents took her to the doctor just prior to the trip. The doctor cleared her for the flight, but not long after they landed they received a phone call telling them they had to come back.

The blood work had returned and doctors advised that Amanda had leukemia.

As expected with any 11year-old, she was devastated, not because she had cancer, but because she had to miss her vacation trip. Her parents told her that she had to immediately go back home because she was very sick, but she begged them to allow her to stay for the rest of the planned trip and then see the doctor.

After they flew back home and she began treatment, doctors told her that had she delayed treatment she would almost certainly have died.

Then began the chemotherapy and everything that it takes away: her hair, her energy, and her appetite.

Fortunately, Amanda had one thing keeping her spirits up. A family friend was also receiving cancer treatment nearby and she had the biggest crush on his son Josh, who would occasionally come and visit her.

It’s these visits from Josh that kept her eating too. The nurses told her that she had to keep her weight up or they would have to put in a feeding tube through her nose. Though even the smell of the hospital food made her nauseous, the thought of Josh seeing her with a feeding tube through her nose was even worse, so she ate just enough to avoid the feeding tube.

The cancer treatment’s continued and eventually she got to go home. Unbeknownst to her, she was being sent home to say goodbye to her family. The treatments weren’t working as well as the doctors had hoped and they expected her to die soon.

That wasn’t God’s plan though, Amanda noted, and she not only didn’t die as they expected, but she began to recover.

Eventually, oncology doctors used the other “cword” they don’t throw around lightly. They advised Amanda she had been cured.

“You’re our little miracle girl,” the medical staff called her.

Amanda then reminded the crowd of survivors that her story, is the story of everyone in the room.

“We represent hope,” Amanda said. Hope is what every newly diagnosed cancer patient needs. Of course they need to know that they are loved and cared for, but most importantly, they need hope to know that they can survive.

“Never, never, ever give up hope,” advised Amanda, “I was sent home to die 18 years ago. There’s always hope.”

As for that boy she had a crush on, she now shares his last name. They began dating once she became of age and they were married not long after.

His father didn’t give up hope either. He preached his own funeral. They sent him home expecting him to die within seven days, but God had other plans.

This year’s Relay for Life will be held at the Chris Joseph Track & Field Complex off of Whitesville Road on Friday, April 21 from 5p.m. to midnight.

Local artist Kevin R. Dunn was selected to serve as Grand Marshal for the event.

Tommy Murphy Staff Writer