02/08/08 — Getting ready to Relay in '08

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Getting ready to Relay in '08

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 8, 2008 2:01 PM

Two days before her 34th birthday, Ladelle Smothers was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery, she got more bad news -- the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, chest, abdomen and groin area.

After the ordeal of more surgery, chemo and radiation therapy, the mother of two young boys has a positive attitude.

"I have cancer, but it didn't have me," she told those attending the 2008 Relay for Life kickoff banquet Thursday night at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

That sentiment was echoed by other cancer survivors at the official start to the Relay, which will be May 16-17 at Wayne Community College.

Mrs. Smothers is one of two adult honorary co-chairmen of this year's Relay. Carol Mitchell is the other co-chairman.

Cooper Bryan was named the honorary children's chairman.

Each had his or her own story to tell.

Mrs. Smothers said the treatment wasn't the worst part of having cancer -- it was the fear of the unknown.

She said it's like "being thrown into the dark in a deep hole. Little by little you dig your way out, but it's a long process."

But she feels the experience has added value to her life through strength and determination. "This experience, as terrible as it was, can help other people. Cancer is just another way to become a better person."

The theme of this year's Relay is "Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back."

And that's exactly what Mrs. Mitchell is doing. The 68-year-old became involved in the Relay long before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was devastated when her sister learned she had colon cancer. Mrs. Mitchell began buying luminarias and purple bows to show her support for her sister.

She lost her father-in-law to cancer then another sister was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The disease hit even closer to home when Mrs. Mitchell's husband got cancer. And she discovered she had the disease in 2006.

When the doctor found the ovarian cancer, he couldn't tell Mrs. Mitchell how much time she had left.

"I decided I was going to fight for this life," she said.

She remembers going out to her mailbox one windy day and her hair starting to fall out. "I went inside and called my hairdresser and told her to get her clippers out because I was coming to see her."

Mrs. Mitchell said whatever the future holds, she is going to be all right.

That's what the parents of 4-year-old Cooper Bryan want for their son. In a split second on Aug. 31, 2007, Jonathan and Renee Cooper's world turned upside down when their son was diagnosed with brainstem glioma.

Because the tumor was in his brainstem, it was inoperable and the doctors couldn't even do a biopsy. They had to treat it as if it was the worst case scenario.

"Super Cooper," as he was nicknamed, had his first chemo Sept. 20 of last year. Last month, he had his fourth MRI in four months. The doctors told the Bryans that the tumor showed some signs of breaking up.

"He has barely slowed down since his diagnosis," said Mrs. Bryan. "He amazes us every day with his strength. This week he even taught himself to ride his bicycle without training wheels."

The honorary co-chairmen are just three of the many stories of cancer survivors in Wayne County.

Relay Co-chairman Jeff Whitener told those at the kickoff that "we have our work cut out for us this year in Wayne County. Can we do it? Yes, because Wayne County rocks."

After a moment of silence in memory of those who have lost their battle with cancer, Co-chairman Terry Butler announced that this year's goal is $700,000.

She said last year's Relay raised a total of $746,789.09.