Cancer warrior and mother of the bride
By Renee Carey
Published in News on May 18, 2012 1:46 PM
Cancer survivor Jill Parks, left, talks with Susan Sutton, Relay for Life Survivors' Banquet committee member, after speaking to a gathering of more than 500 people at First Pentecostal Holiness Church on Thursday night. Mrs. Parks described her battle with cancer and the support she received from family, friends, doctors and medical staff.
Ayden Egan, one of the children's honorary co-chairs for the 2012 Relay for Life, pulls raffle tickets with master of ceremonies Jimmie Ford.
When Jill Parks' daughter, Morgan, walks down the aisle this August, her mother will be there to fluff her dress, to kiss her on the cheek and to watch as she says her vows.
But that was not always how the Mount Olive resident thought it would be.
When she first heard the diagnosis in 2010 that she had cancer, she wondered if she would get to see either of her daughters get married -- or if she would be able to overcome the disease.
But the former first-grade teacher told the more than 500 people gathered at First Pentecostal Holiness Church for the 19th annual Survivors' Banquet Thursday that she is not one to give up -- especially since she had some goals left to accomplish.
And one of those was to see her "babies get married."
Mrs. Parks' journey began when, after having some health problems, she went from doctor to doctor, trying to figure out what was wrong.
After one doctor handed her a book on relaxation rather than a definitive diagnosis, she decided to go in another direction.
"In two days, I threw that book in the trash can and went to my family doctor," she said.
After an ultrasound, and some concerns by her physician, she was referred to Duke, where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2010.
After months of treatment and no improvement, she came back to Southeastern Medical Oncology Center.
It was there that she learned she had biliary tract cancer.
Mrs. Parks said that change in diagnosis saved her life.
"I started my treatment, and I started gaining weight," she said.
She is improving now -- although the fight still rages on.
And now she has added a new item to what she calls her "bucket list."
After telling her doctor that she just wanted to see her daughters get married, she now wants to be around for grandchildren, too.
So, after she watches Morgan, 25, marry her fiance, Dex Jackson, in August, she will have to get busy helping 19-year-old Skyler make her dreams come true.
"Now, I want to see both my daughters get married and have babies, preferably in that order," she told those gathered Thursday.
And she said she knows she has not only the support of her daughter the ER nurse, Morgan, but also of her husband, Nelson, whom she calls the family's "rock," and her parents.
"My mama, I officially call her 'meals on wheels,'" Mrs. Parks said. "Whenever there was nothing to eat, there she was with a meal."
But it was not just the rides to treatment, the help with household chores or the myriad of other ways her family and friends gathered around her after her diagnosis, Mrs. Parks said.
They were there for her emotionally, too.
She said she would not have been able to get through the pain and the worry without the support of not only her family, but the hundreds of well-wishes, prayers and other gestures small and large that have helped her get up the courage to fight. And that includes the farming community -- her husband is a farmer -- who called often to check to see how she was doing.
For a teacher and a caregiver, letting others in on the cancer fight was not easy -- and what she called the "monsoon of support" was overwhelming, Mrs. Parks said.
"I told my pastor that if someone in my family had to have cancer, I am glad it was me," she said. "I can fight harder than anyone else in my family."
And that also meant focusing not only on getting better, but continuing to live her life.
After long visits with well-wishers, she decided on a new policy for those who came to the Parks home.
"I told my company 'all I want to hear is your problems or any gossip you might have heard, no cancer talk,'" she said.
Staying positive is not easy, she said, as many of the survivors who listened nodded their heads as they remembered their own battles.
It takes perspective, which Mrs. Parks said is never more apparent than in the chemotherapy room.
"People ask me how I have such a positive attitude and I tell them, if you look to your left or to your right, there is someone who is in worse shape than you," she said.
And there were plenty of people at Thursday's event who understood the courage it takes to battle cancer, with survivors and caregivers gathering from all over Wayne County to help officially kick off this weekend's Relay for Life.
Local celebrity and community volunteer, Jimmie Ford was the master of ceremonies for the banquet, which was sponsored by Southeastern Medical Oncology Center and the American Cancer Society.
He reminded all those present that being there for each other -- and sharing their stories -- were key parts of recovery, and living the best life possible.
Also in attendance were honorary Relay for Life adult co-chairs Sybil Scott Seward, Shirley Frasier and children's co-chairmen Ayden Egan and Isaiah Henderson.
Ayden even helped pull the tickets for door prizes, winning one himself on his second pull.
Entertainment for the evening included two songs by vocalist Gregory Montgomery, one of which, "When you Cry," he dedicated to Brenda Chapin, the receptionist in the chemotherapy department at SMOC.
Montgomery has been battling multiple myloma for four years and is still receiving treatments.
"There were times when I was about to give up," he said. "And when I would walk in, she would always be there with a smile. She gave me inspiration. She would not let me give up."
The evening ended with Susan Scott of SMOC singing "One Moment in Time" as well as a moment of silence for those who have lost their battles with cancer.