When the 2017 Bulloch County Relay for Life unfolds at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds on Friday, the night’s event will mean different things for different people.
For some, it means a fun night spent with friends while raising money for the American Cancer Society. For others, it means remembering loved ones lost to the disease or still fighting the battle.
But to many, such as Statesboro’s Charles Farley, it means hope. It means understanding, support and a sense of belonging to those who have heard those chilling words spoken by a doctor: “You have cancer.”
Farley, 64, learned he has cancer in 2008. He suffers from large granular lymphocytic leukemia, or LGL, a rare form of the disease. It causes him to suffer daily flu-like symptoms, and there is no cure.
“It was the most devastating feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said, adding that he walked around the parking lot at the doctor’s office for over an hour after hearing the news, stunned. “I felt like I was 12 feet deep in a hole and there was nobody around.”
He eventually called his wife, Veronice, and they prayed together on the phone before he went home. But there was still a void, a need for Farley to find someone somewhere who understood his fears.
One night around 2 a.m., he was browsing the internet and found the phone number to a cancer hotline on the American Cancer Society website. Expecting a recording, he was surprised to hear a woman named Jennifer answer. She talked to him for 45 minutes, reassuring him that there were people who walked in his shoes, and ended the conversation with a reference to Kay Nay, head of the Bulloch County chapter of the American Cancer Society.
That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, he said.
“I was looking for a support group. From that point, up to today, we are a family,” Farley said of the friends he has made through Bulloch County Relay for Life and the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
“It took a group to pull me out of that 12-feet-deep hole,” he said. “It was dark and lonely. I didn’t know anyone who knew what I was going through at the time.”
Every year when spring rolls around and Relay for Life approaches, Farley gets emotional.
“I’ve never had anything tear me down like that,” he said. “Now, if I can ever help somebody or guide someone like they treated me, I will.”
Knowing he has helped others cope with the emotional bombshell of learning they have cancer helps Farley deal with his own health issues.
“Relay is very touching,” he said. “I have lost a lot of friends and relatives and have some who have just been diagnosed with cancer.”
His mother and sister suffered from the disease as well.
The former educator and military soldier said Relay for Life is his mission now.
“People don’t really understand what Relay means,” he said. “I can’t say enough about it. Relay has saved my life.”
Farley will be at Friday’s events for Bulloch County Relay for Life. The fundraiser will feature cancer survivors, caregivers, volunteers and community members “making an effort to free the world of the pain and suffering of cancer,” said Lee Wright, division communications manager for the South Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society.
Teams will set up “camps” decorated in this year’s Dr. Seuss theme. Team members will sell refreshments, offer games and raise money in several fun ways while others walk around the track to raise money for cancer research. The track is lined with luminaries purchased in honor of those fighting cancer or who have lost the battle with the disease.
Activities start at 6 p.m. with the opening ceremony, followed by the Survivor’s Lap, the Caregiver’s Lap and the luminaria ceremony.
The event is open to the public, and residents are encouraged to come show support and help raise money to battle the disease.
“The American Cancer Society Relay for Life movement is the world’s largest fundraising event to save lives from cancer. Uniting communities across the globe, the American Cancer Society celebrates people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and take action for lifesaving change,” Wright said. “Funds raised help the American Cancer Society provide free information and support for people facing the disease today, educate people about how to reduce their risk for cancer or detect it early when it’s the easiest to treat, and fund cancer research that will help protect future generations.”
In the United States alone, there are more than 3,500 Relay for Life events with approximately 2.7 million participants, he said. Last year, Relay for Life events in the United States raised more than $279 million.
For more information about Friday’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life for Bulloch County, contact Kay Nay at (912) 764-7410 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.