05/29/09 — Annual banquet brings survivors together

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Annual banquet brings survivors together

By Renee Carey
Published in News on May 29, 2009 1:46 PM

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Haley Kornegay sings 'My One True Friend' during the Relay for Life Survivors Banquet Thursday.

When Haley Kornegay stood up to sing her song during the 2009 Relay for Life Survivors Banquet, there weren't many people who knew why she chose "My One True Friend" to entertain the crowd.

She was the 2008 Relay Idol winner -- that's why the performance spot was hers -- but there was emotion behind the words that challenged all those present to look for the heroes in their lives.

Haley was singing for her mom, Angie, who died in 2007 of cancer at age 41.

"She was always there for me," Haley said about her mom. "She helped me."

Haley said she will remember lots of moments with her mom, but most especially how "she always liked to cuddle with me."

And now that she has gone, the teenager said she will carry on -- just as her mother would have wanted -- and that is the advice she would give any young person facing the prospect of losing his or her mom.

"Live your life right," she said. "She can't come back to you, but you can go to her."

Haley's song was just one of the many poignant and heartfelt moments in the annual gathering of survivors, friends, families and volunteers, the official kickoff for today's Relay for Life events.

Also there for the evening were Stephanie Craig and Jennifer Kominsky, honorary Relay co-chairmen.

Emceed by Jimmy Ford, the evening was full of fun and laughs, as well as the chance to honor those who had inspired volunteers with their courage and faith.

It was to those cancer patients that Tiffany Albertson, and her accompanist Phil Wise, dedicated their performance of "The Climb."

The second place Relay Idol and staff member at Southeastern Medical Center said the patients she meets every day help her put her own challenges into perspective.

"You inspire us every day," she said.

Dr. Jim Atkins was there, too.

He shared his own thanks for the example his patients set.

"Many of you tell us we are the wind beneath your wings," he said. "But you are the wind beneath our wings. Many of you have taught us many things over the years -- about life, about the journey, about courage."

Atkins also reminded those present that their efforts are paying off -- in research.

"More and more people are surviving cancer," he said. "More news about therapies is coming. Watch the news."

But even though the reason they were there was the fight against a serious disease that has claimed many lives, the crowd of more than 600 was courageous, uproarious and eager to cheer on the fight.

Even the youngest cancer survivor present, Ashley Kearney, 12, got in on the fun, assisting Ford with the door prize drawing, pulling ticket after ticket, until she finally picked her own.

The sixth-grader at Brogden Middle School was diagnosed with cancer when she was 4 and underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments for two years.

The treatments were successful and now she only has to check with her doctors a couple of times a year to make sure the cancer stays in remission.

The daughter of Andrew and Tammy Kearney of Dudley, she attended the event with her grandmother, Lynn Kearney.

Mrs. Kearney said Ashley's illness was a time of great emotional stress for the family.

"We all tried to be strong for one another," she said. "We didn't want her to know how upset we were."

Ashley and her family have been part of the Relay for Life every year since she was diagnosed and said she enjoys the annual party, with the opening ceremony her favorite part.

"I like to help hold the banner," she said, referring to the opening survivors' walk. She added that it made her feel good to see how many people take the time to put on such a big event.

The evening ended with a song, "One Moment in Time," which was sung by Susan Scott, and a tradition.

The survivors' table, a place setting on a small, single table, is designed to remind those present of the men, women and children who have lost their battles with cancer.

It is their memory and the continuing battles of the survivors that keep volunteers going, said Donna Thompson, one of the event organizers.

"We will never forget or stop fighting," she said.