For Statesboro's Eddie Olliff, helping organize a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society was personal. Olliff's sister, Betty Joe Thorpe, died from Leukemia a number of years ago so she was willing and happy to help with Thursday's fundraiser at Pittman Park United Methodist Church.
Organized by Olliff and Judi Downs, the event was broken into two parts. First there was a sale of arts and crafts of all descriptions that were hand-made and donated by local church members from around Statesboro.
Following the crafts sale, there was a Coffee and Dessert Theater show, which they called "Broadway In The Boro."
The desserts, of too many varieties to mention, were made by local church members or donated by local businesses. The real attention getter, however, was the theater troupe assembled by Eddie Frazier, head of the Drama Department at Statesboro High School that performed for the crowd.
Frazier said several his own family members had died from cancer, and therefore the support for more research and treatments was near to his heart.
Olliff's partner in organizing the event Judi Downs, on the other hand, is an 18-year survivor of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. Downs is now entering her fourth set of clinic trials of another promising new drug. Down's son Carson and daughter Blair helped put together the evening's entertainment.
The special guest of honor was young Rebecca Carnes, 13, who was diagnosed in February with APL, or Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, a type of Leukemia that is diagnosed in only some 50 patients every year. Rebecca also has Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, both very serious illnesses on their own.
Rebecca is preparing to enter what she and her parents, Tom and Julie Carnes, call a two and one-half year maintenance trial of three different drug therapies. Tom, a teacher at Effingham County High School, and Julie, a pediatric nurse at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, were very grateful for the audience's support of donating to research and eventually finding a cure for the deadly and unforgiving disease.
Rebecca's disease is the same illness made famous in the book "My Sister's Keeper" written by author Jodi Picoult (2004) and in the film of the same name directed by Nick Cassavetes (2009). Essentially, the film is about the trials of a family that has a daughter suffering from the disease.
Rebecca, a student enrolled in Bulloch County's "Hospital Home-Bound Program" must receive her daily nutritional requirements via TPN (or Total Parental Nutrition) through a feeding tube, which unfortunately has itself caused many unforeseen problems.
Once the crowd of more than 100 guests was seated, MC Frazier took to the stage to to introduce his student Blair Downs (Jodi's daughter) with the song "Willkommen" from the musical "Cabaret." Next was another Statesboro High student, Melaina Joyner, who captivated the audience with her rendition of "Popular" from the musical "Wicked."
Joyner had the audience in stitches after she brought an unsuspecting audience member (Daniel Doubleday) up onto stage to croon to him. The slightly confused and bemused Doubleday later said he had no idea what was going to happen. Joyner's presentation was followed by several other pieces performed by troupe members Cecilia Moore, Blair Downs, Katherine Henderson and Lainey Hannah.
The final piece of the evening's entertainment was from the musical "Hairspray," entitled "Mama I'm A Big Girl Now" in which Frazier appeared on stage in drag with his drama students. Frazier nearly brought the house down, as he stood to the side of the stage in his frumpy house dress and disheveled hair.
Frazier commented after the show how "It was moving to witness patients in the midst of fighting their own battles with this disease take their time out to gather together to bring more awareness to the public about the many forms of Leukemia, the cancer of the blood and that of Lymphoma, the cancer of the lymph glands."