A passion for finding a cure
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 3, 2012 1:46 PM
Sybil Scott Seward speaks Thursday at the kickoff banquet. Mrs. Seward shared part of her battle with cancer at the event. She is an honorary adult chairman for this year's campaign.
Len Henderson, left, smiles Thursday at the Wayne County Relay for Life kickoff as his grandson, Isaiah Henderson, an honorary youth co-chairman, covers his mouth after making a joke. Isaiah joked about a pretty nurse he had while receiving treatment for cancer.
Some hung their heads when a 13-year-old had to lean on his grandfather to make it across the stage.
Others wiped tears from their eyes when he began reading a story called "The Miracle" -- a narrative he wrote for school about his battle with cancer.
Even after all they had witnessed in their lifetimes, it was still hard for them to come to terms with the fact that a little boy would be forced to take on such a fierce opponent.
But when Isaiah Henderson flashed a smile, they smiled.
And when he talked about his "beautiful" nurse -- and the day he told members of the Duke basketball team that despite their visit to his hospital room, he remained a UNC fan -- they lost themselves in laughter.
A 13-year-old? Yes. But of a different kind.
Isaiah, in his own words, is a survivor.
"It was a hard fight, but I truly can say that I made it," he said. "I have another MRI in May ... and I believe my doctor will say he does not see any signs of that tumor."
It had all the makings of a celebration -- music, food, fellowship.
But Wayne County's annual Relay for Life kickoff event was about something far more powerful than marking the beginning of another year of fundraising.
For some, just being in attendance meant they had kept their cancer at bay for another year.
For others, it was one more chance to remember those who have lost their battles.
So before the program got into full swing, Relay Co-Chair Debbie Pennell asked for a moment of silence -- for those still fighting, but, more importantly, for those whose bodies had finally succumbed to their respective diseases since the last time this particular group came together.
"We've had a really tough year," she said. "We've lost a lot of special people that were very involved with our Relay for Life. A lot of those people were with us last year."
But the fallen were not the only ones missing Thursday night.
Two of those chosen to serve as honorary chairmen were also absent -- Ayden Egan and Shirley Frasier have both taken their battles to medical facilities outside North Carolina -- a poignant reminder to those on hand that cancer doesn't take a night off.
But Ayden, the 8-year-old Eastern Wayne Middle School student chosen to lead the Kids Walk with Isaiah this spring, was well-represented.
And when Wendy Mitchell, a family friend, read the letter she submitted to nominate him for the post, the little boy's presence was felt.
It was Labor Day, she said, when Ayden stepped on a rock while on vacation with his family.
His parents had no idea that the wound wouldn't heal -- that a seemingly simple injury could lead to a leukemia diagnosis.
"It was like a bombshell," Wendy said.
But despite his plight, Ayden, like Isaiah, approached his fight in a way that, just hearing about it, evoked tears.
"During this time, Ayden never complained. He never asked, 'Why me?'" she said. "He was a trooper -- a hero in my eyes."
Adult Honorary Chairman Sybil Scott Seward said the strength of the children she encountered during her own cancer battle was powerful.
"That was the thing that got to me more than me having it -- the little children that did not know what cancer really meant," she said.
And then she told those who have challenged themselves to raise $500,000 at this year's Relay that she has seen firsthand just what the research and medical trials funded, in part, through their efforts, can do -- how she fought off the same bone cancer that killed her brother more than 40 years ago.
"In 1970, cancer was something people just didn't talk about, but 21 years later ... there were strides made," she said. "If it were not for you who contribute so much to the fight against cancer, we would not be where we are today. So we have a lot to be thankful for."