02/02/07 — Relay for Life volunteers prepare for '07 campaign

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Relay for Life volunteers prepare for '07 campaign

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 2, 2007 1:50 PM

Wintry weather might have kept many people away from the annual Relay for Life kickoff Thursday, but spirits ran especially high for those attending as they promised to fight cancer with a renewed determination.

The atmosphere was a festive one with purple, white and pink balloons all over the room at First Pentecostal Holiness Church and luminarias burning brightly on each table.

One of the highlights of the banquet was the naming of two honorary chairmen for the 2007 Relay. This year, in addition to an adult chairman, there will also be a children's chairman.

Seven-year-old Caleb Whitfield timidly accepted that honor, accompanied by his parents, Graham and Crystal. The Grantham School student was diagnosed with leukemia when he was only 2 1/2, his mother said. He has been in remission for more than a year.

"In November 2002, our world was rocked," Mrs. Whitfield said. Caleb was taken to his doctor for a regular checkup, but was immediately referred to Wayne Memorial Hospital for special bloodwork, which showed he had leukemia.

"All my life I had heard about leukemia and thought 'death'", his mother said. "Now, at Thanksgiving, my son had it. The next two-and-a-half years, our son fought leukemia and he won."

The Whitfields thanked Relay for Life volunteers for all they do to raise money for cancer research. "Keep doing it so one day a parent won't have to hear 'your child has cancer'", Mrs. Whitfield said.

Helen Harwood was named the adult honorary chairman. She is a 26-year breast cancer survivor and the patient advocate at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center.

"When cancer invades our life, it causes change -- change in attitudes, relationships and more," Mrs. Harwood said. "But how we react to that change is what really matters."

Because of her cancer, Mrs. Harwood's husband entered the ministry and she became a Cancer Society volunteer and patient advocate.

It was Thanksgiving 1980 when Mrs. Harwood found out she had breast cancer. She had a mastectomy that December.

She said she now thinks maybe her first reaction to the news that she had cancer was a little strange. "I asked if I could still pay softball," she said.

She loved to play softball so much that the day after her first cancer treatment, she went to the field to practice. "I went home and got sick," she said, as she proudly held up her worn baseball glove and softball.

Mrs. Harwood was 38 at the time. She said during one of her first games after the mastectomy, she saw the ball coming straight for her. "I didn't know if I could do it or not as I slowly raised my arm," she said.

"But that ball fell perfectly in my glove. God knew I loved softball and let me play it again after cancer."

She shared another story about another softball game. She bent over to get the ball and her wig fell off in front of everyone.

"I just picked the wig up, put it back on and continued to play the game," she said.

Three weeks after her surgery, Mrs. Harwood found a new job. She's proud of the fact that although she was still taking treatments, she never missed a whole day of work at all.

"I'd take a treatment on Friday afternoon, be sick all weekend and then go back to work on Monday," she said.

This year's Miss Goldsboro, Nicki Sanderson, attended the kickoff to promote her platform of melanoma awareness. She said it's a cause close to her heart because her father was diagnosed with this type of cancer 10 years ago. She said she wants to promote cancer awareness in the community and also help raise money for cancer research.

During the kickoff, it was announced that there would be four Relay chairmen this year instead of the usual three. They are Dr. Lee Adams, Terry Butler, Mark Renfroe and former Relay logistics chairman Jeff Whitener.

This year's goal has been set at $675,000. The 2006 Relay raised a little more than $636,000, Whitener said. "That's a whole lot of giving from the heart for a county this size. It shows how much cancer has touched people in this community."

Cancer Society Community Manager Tim Braden displayed a Top Ten Per Capita Award that Wayne County won for 2006. The average amount given here per person was $5.62, he said, making Wayne County third in the nation for most money raised per capita. He displayed a second award that Wayne County received for being No. 1 in its region for the most money raised.

The Wayne County Unit of the American Cancer Society President Debbie Pennell summed up the Relay by saying, "Cancer never rests and never can we."

The 2007 Relay for Life will be May 18-19 at Wayne Community College.