There was a celebration of the gift of life Thursday.
The Annual Relay for Life Survivors and Caregivers Dinner was held in the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, with a large number of people who have battled cancer enjoying the comradery of surviving cancer.
Relay for Life Co-Chair Lori Wiggins said the dinner is held the month prior to the Relay for Life event, which takes place this year on April 28 from 6 p.m. to midnight at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds.
Relay for Life fundraisers hosted in communities across the country each year offer family-friendly evenings to recognize and honor those currently on cancer journeys and survivors from bouts of cancer, to remember those who lost the battle and to raise money to support the research and supportive efforts of the American Cancer Society.
Honorary Relay for Life Chair Lori Grice shared her story as the keynote speaker for the dinner, emphasizing three main points she learned during her cancer journey: storms will come; be a vessel and live like you’re dying.
Grice’s journey with the disease began slightly more than 15 years ago, when her much-loved and anticipated daughter, Edie Grace, was 14 months-old. Grice spoke of her daughter as a little miracle and one prayed for often.
“DeWayne and I were told we couldn’t have children,” Grice said.
Approaching their 12th wedding anniversary, the couple had dinner one evening with Dr. Michael and Mrs. Audrey Guido, founders of Guido Evangelistic Association in Metter. The Guidos were family friends and Grice had been the Guido photographer for years.
“Before we left, Dr. Guido prayed for us, as he always did,” said Grice. “And he prayed specifically for the little girl I would have, the color of her hair and the color of her eyes.”
And indeed, the Grice’s welcomed Edie Grace in their lives nine months later. Grice had grand plans of motherhood and was devastated upon learning from her doctor that she had cervical cancer. Thirty-six hours after her diagnosis, Grice had surgery on her 33rd birthday.
“I prayed to live until Edie Grace was 5 so she’d remember me, so we could have memories.”
Daughter Edie Grace turns 16 soon, and Grice has made it her mission to use her journey with cancer to advocate, speak and encourage others in similar situations.
“I can remember I’d jotted words from a song at a church event, ‘bend me, mend me, refine me by your fire’ before my diagnosis. Later, my preacher talked about the burning bush in the book of Exodus. The bush was on fire, but not getting consumed.
“I felt God saying ‘you can get through it without being consumed.’ In our trials, God uses those things to move us to the next thing.”
In a dream during her cancer ordeal, Grice said God reminded her that he’d given her the gift of photography and wanted her to create memories for others.
“I knew my next mission in life was for God’s glory.”
The award-winning photographer has done just that now for many years.
“Make the most of every day with the gifts and resources God has given you,” Grice said.
Jennifer Nunn, coordinator for the survivor dinner and Ogeechee Area Hospice liaison, said her position was personal and not just work-related. Nunn’s two grandfathers passed away from cancer and her mother is a breast cancer survivor.
Nunn thanked the Statesboro Service League for their willingness to sponsor the event and provide members to serve the meal. Also contributing to the success of the event were Frazer’s Flowers and Gifts, Fairy Tale Tents and Party Rentals, Cake, Core Credit Union, R and B Musicians, Jill Johns with Laughter Yoga and First Baptist Church.
Relay for Life Co-Chair Christopher Wiggins presented Lori Wiggins with a Volunteer of the Year Award. The two co-chairs share the same last name but are unrelated and have worked together before for Relay events.
Glenna Ellwood is 91 and she’s had two cancer diagnoses in the last decade. She was honored as the oldest survivor in attendance.
Ellwood smiled and said, “I’m in good health.”
The youngest cancer survivor in attendance, 28-year-old Allison Fadden, accompanied by her 9-year-old daughter, Alexis, and 7-year-old son, Joseph, said she was first diagnosed with cervical cancer cells at 15 and had Stage 4 cervical cancer at 22.
“I had a hysterectomy, and six years later, I’m enjoying my kids,” Fadden said proudly.