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Chicken dinner fundraiser benefits local cancer victim
First Southern National Bank employees Jane Marie Moody and Mariely Bailey, far right, share a laugh while pitching in for Friday's chicken fundraiser.

    What do you get when you combine a community of caring people, countless volunteers and 2,000 chickens?
    You get "overwhelming," said Dana Brannen, whose husband Mark was the reason a swarm of volunteers worked hard for three weeks to put together a fund raiser that produced 4,000 chicken dinners Friday.
    Mark Brannen, 37, has suffered from colon and other cancers for the past two and a half years, said his father Tommy Brannen, who was present Friday at the massive chicken dinner fund raiser held behind First Southern National Bank.
    Dana, Mark's wife, said the only word she could think of when trying to describe the event was " overwhelming."
    Dana Brannen works for First Southern National Bank, and when her coworkers learned about Mark's health challenges, they stepped in to do what they could to help provide money to cover expenses insurance will not cover, she said.
    Tommy Brannen said his son developed colon cancer, which spread to several areas, including lungs and lymph nodes. He has been to Burzynski Cancer Research Clinic in Houston and is currently still undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment locally.
    Dana said her husband suffered from panic attacks because his limited lung capacity made him feel he could not get enough air, she said Friday. In spite of the joy she felt over the fund raiser, there was still the fear and frustration as Mark battles his disease.
    But seeing the community come forth like  they did made what could have been "a really gloomy time," a time of hope as well, Tommy Brannen said.
    "It is fantastic to see this many people trying to help," he said.
    His sister, Sheryl Burnsed, agreed.
    "It's just unbelievable,"  she said as she watched volunteers get ready for those picking up the dinners. "All the support from everybody, I just can't express how it feels. And I know Mark so wants to be here."
    The banking world can be competitive, but when it comes to Statesboro and Bulloch County, community and family come first, said First Southern National Bank President Tommy David.
    He recalled how Dana first got the news that Mark had cancer, and when she learned he could go to Houston for an experimental, new drug, but insurance would not cover it.
    The bank employees, whom both he and Dana Brannen said were family, not just coworkers, decided to hold the fund raiser.
    "In three days we had so much demand (for tickets) and volunteers - everybody wanted to do something to help."
    Local churches, businesses, individuals and most impressively - other banks - pitched in to help, he said.
    Fourteen grills and three grilling stations later, the chicken was ready.
    David said he is impressed with how the event shaped up.
    "Dana is one of the first employees we had (when the bank began)," he said. "We started this bank as a family and we call ourselves the First Southern family. When we have a need, we reach out."
    Some volunteers didn't even know Dana or Mark, and just wanted to help, he said. "We had no idea we could do this in three weeks."
    And when other bank employees reached out to help, David and the Brannen family were touched.
    "That's the spirit of  a lot of businesses in this town," he said. "You lay down the sword when it's  time to help."
    The totals were not in Friday evening but the sale of the dinners alone was expected to bring in $15,000, and other donations were believed to bump the totals to $25,000 or more, he said.
    Dana Brannen was noticeably exhausted and emotional Friday afternoon, and within reason. Having to deal with  the difficulties of helping her husband, who is on liquid nutrition at East Georgia Regional Medical Center,  plus the emotional impact of the mass concern showed by the community, the day had been taxing.
    "There are really no words to express, just overwhelming," she said, vice trembling. "My work people are my family and I love them like sisters and brothers."
    Speaking about volunteers that " just showed up out of love," Dana kept repeating the one word - "overwhelming."
    When asked what else her family needs in addition to what the funds raised by the chicken dinner sales provided, she said "Prayer is our  main need right now. There's just a lot of emotions ... makes you feel very loved."
    Dana and Mark Brannen have one daughter, Courtney, three. The couple have known each other since "before I could date," when she was 14, Dana said,
    She was allowed to attend church with Mark but could not date until 1988 - and the pair married in 1997.
    In March of 2006, Mark began passing blood and doctors discovered he had colon cancer. His first surgery was a few weeks later.
    "It's been one step forward and two steps back," she said of the ordeal.

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