A crowd of cancer survivors and their care givers enjoyed an uplifting reception Sunday afternoon, sharing refreshments, camaraderie and stories of their cancer experience.
The reception replaced the traditional "Survivor's Dinner" that usually precedes the Bulloch County Relay for Life. The American Cancer Society-sponsored fundraiser will be held Friday, April 16, at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds.
The reception was held at The Robbins' Nest on U.S. 80 West. Cancer survivors and their loved ones dropped in between 3 and 5 p.m. to enjoy door prizes, palate-pleasing food and the company of others who understand the feeling experienced when a doctor utters the "C" word.
Some were new to the scene, having never attended a Relay for Life event. Others were familiar with the special tribute to cancer survivors, having attended dinners for survivors in the past. This year, the Relay for Life volunteers decided to do something different and have a reception instead of a dinner, said Survivor Recognition Committee co-chair Edie Olliff.
Survivors and their care givers shared emotional exchanges as they each talked to others about their cancers. They ranged in ages from children to elderly. Olliff said one Statesboro survivor is only four years old, and survivor Nellie Sowell, 96, accepted a special honor Sunday afternoon for having been a survivor for 54 years.
Hilda Dutrow was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, and is undergoing stem call treatment she feels will be the answer to her prayers.
"I truly believe God is healing me in His time and His way," she said. "It may not be the was I choose but to believe - He is in the healing business."
Her sister is providing the stem cells for her treatment, she said. "This is a potential cure. If it works I may never have to have more chemo."
Melanee Morales was just diagnosed with appendix cancer last December, but she is not new to the Relay for Life scene. Having been a volunteer for many years, Morales has renewed her volunteer efforts once again.
When she discovered her illness, she was "surprised, shocked that I had cancer," she said. "But, I have faith in my God that I will survive this."
She supports Relay for Life because it helps fund cancer research and educates people on cancer. It also promotes cancer survivors getting together to battle the disease.
Tricia Duggan is another survivor with a fighting spirit. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, she said " I was not afraid. People gave me all these books on how to deal with depression due to cancer)" but she didn't need them, she said.
In a matter-of-fact manner, she talked about her cancer, chemotherapy and mastectomy. "I didn't choose reconstructive surgery - I am a 'what you see is what you get' kind of person. If I had to get something fake I wanted to be able to take it off and throw it on a chair."
Duggan said if she were to offer advice to a newly diagnosed cancer patient it would be "keep a positive attitude." Her faith has helped her, and she suggests praying too.
Morales agreed. Cancer survivors need to reach out to people," she said. "Don't just sit there in your house and close the door. Stay active as much as you can and get as much information as you can.
As survivors socialized, volunteers were busy making sure the reception wan smoothly. Olliff said she and others working with her - Judi Downs, Barbara Martin, Kay Nay and several more -could not have managed without the intense support of Pittman Park United Methodist Church.
But Bryce Bunting, church youth volunteer coordinator, said volunteers prefer to stay out of the limelight.
Yet, the pride he feels for his young volunteers showed as he spoke. He said he brought a bus load of 15 youth, and three more showed up to help with the reception. The volunteers are from five years old to high school age, and they all love helping with Relay for Life events, he said.
He said be was moved by listening to survivors talk about their disease. "Sometimes, you just don't know what you can do, and this is a little way to do something" to help, he said.
And the events - the reception, the Relay for Life, the Survivor's tent and first lap taken in the relay by survivors - all mean a great deal to those battling cancer, Dutrow said.
The reception "is wonderful, and refreshing," she said. "It was a gorgeous day for it."