02/03/06 — Annual Relay for Life fund drive begins

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Annual Relay for Life fund drive begins

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 3, 2006 1:49 PM

When Donald Mercer fought lung cancer and won, he thought the worst was over.

But it wasn't.

He would go on to battle both colon and prostate cancer.

Now, a survivor several times over, he is joining forces with other volunteers to help them win their battles against the disease.

Mercer is the honorary chairman of this year's Relay for Life and was the speaker at a kickoff banquet Thursday at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

The 60-year-old former Southern Wayne High School teacher was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 1984. While having routine X-rays for minor surgery, the doctor found a small spot in Mercer's right lung.

Tests were run to see if he could survive with just one lung. He could, and surgery was done to remove it.

"I'm one of a minority," Mercer said. "Back in 1984, only 7 percent of people with lung cancer lived more than five years."

Seemingly calm about his experiences with the disease, Mercer went on to tell about being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002. That was discovered during a routine colonoscopy. The surgeon took out 14 inches of his colon.

Then in 2003, Mercer had a routine prostate checkup, and his prostate specific antigen (PSA) level was high. He was treated with antibiotics, which didn't help.

A biopsy revealed that Mercer had prostate cancer. The surgeon removed his prostate Dec. 3 of that year and Mercer didn't have to have radiation therapy, chemotherapy or drugs.

"I feel guilty doing this (being honorary Relay chairman)," Mercer said. "I feel I don't have a problem."

During the kickoff banquet, Wayne County Unit of the American Cancer Society Chairman Debbie Pennell told the 300 attendees that "we've got our work cut out for us this year. We've become the role model for the Relay for Life event."

She announced this year's slogan: "Wayne County Rocks."

The 2006 Relay chairman are Terry Butler, Eastern Wayne High School; Dr. Lee Adams, optometrist; and Dr. Mark Renfroe, Wayne Memorial Hospital.

Mrs. Butler announced that this year's Relay goal is $550,000. She said last year's goal was $525,000 and $568,000 was raised.

Also last year, there were 105 teams and 434 corporate sponsors. Relay volunteers sold 4,600 luminarias and 2,800 purple bows.

The Relay for Life will be May 19-20 at Wayne Community College.

This year's heart-shaped luminarias will be in honor of Donald Mercer, Kim Goff, Bernadette Cooke and Tanya Blount. But luminaria hearts will be done for any team who is relaying for a special person with cancer.

During the banquet, Mrs. Goff told about her battle with breast cancer. It was discovered during a mammogram. When a tiny spot showed up on her mammogram, the doctors told her it was really nothing to worry about and to have another mammogram in six months.

But something was still bothering Mrs. Goff and she insisted on having a biopsy. "The doctor did the biopsy and said he felt everything was fine," she said. "But the next day, I was told I had cancer.

"That word scares everyone to death. When I was told, I walked around and around my house. I couldn't talk. I couldn't cry. I couldn't scream or anything. I just walked and walked."

To make sure she was cancer-free, Mrs. Goff elected to have a double mastectomy.

"It's been a hard road, but a wonderful one," she said. "I have helped so many people because I had cancer. I am still in shock that it has happened, but it's been a blessing in a way."

She said she had been participating in Relay for Life for a friend who had cancer. Now she relays for herself, too.

Ms. Blount spoke about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer a little more than 14 years ago. She was newly divorced with three small children.

"I felt like my life was over," she said. "I was in denial for six months."

Ms. Blount said it was a scary road. "They gave me six months to live. I got down to 99 pounds and was bald."

But she survived and today is fighting for a cure for cancer.

The room was packed with volunteers, survivors and family members. Each table had a luminaria, and pink, purple and white balloons tied to luminaria bags with purple paper overflowing from them surrounded the stage. Outback Steakhouse provided the meals, and Wilber's provided drinks.

The banquet ended on a somber note as a song was played about carrying candles through the dark to light the world.

"Cancer doesn't sleep; neither can we," Mrs. Pennell said.