02/01/13 — Another victory on road to cure

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Another victory on road to cure

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 1, 2013 1:46 PM

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Ethel Barnes holds up a sign displaying money raised by last year's Relay for Life teams during the annual Relay for Life Kickoff held at First Pentecostal Holiness Church Thursday.

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Eunice Massengill describes her experiences as a caregiver.

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Jake May describes his experiences as a cancer survivor.

Bobby Massengill didn't cheer when a Relay for Life official announced that last year's main event saw Wayne County residents raise more than $420,000 to help fund cancer research.

He didn't hear his wife, Eunice, choke up when she referred to him as her "soul mate."

He didn't see the tears that fell from the eyes of those who converged on a Goldsboro church Thursday evening when a local teenager talked about the battle that has defined his life since he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Bobby lost his own fight with cancer several years ago.

But when Eunice delivered remarks meant to underline the significance of caretakers, the hundred-plus in attendance came to know a man who was taken from his greatest love far too soon.

"I don't regret one minute of the time I spent with him," she said. "And that's why I Relay. I don't want people to ever have to look in their children's faces, or their grandchildren's faces, and see what I saw. I don't want anyone else to have to feel like I do."

Some came to celebrate another day with friends and loved ones -- a day that, for the cancer survivors and those sitting beside them, wasn't guaranteed.

Others wanted to honor the memory of those not so fortunate -- the men, women, boys and girls they were forced to memorialize.

And while they came from different walks of life, they stood together against a common foe.

So when Ethel Barnes held up a banner that read, "$420,322.82" -- when she formally announced that, in 2012, Wayne's Relay had, again, raised more money than any event of its kind in the state -- those in the crowd boasted.

"That's what we did in Wayne County," she said, as the room erupted in applause. "And I just want to say, 'Thank you very much.'"

When Brenda Robinson compelled them to "work extra hard" this year to ensure the organization's $450,000 goal for 2013 is met, they, through nods and one-liners, complied.

And when, just before the conclusion of the Relay Kickoff Banquet, they listened to recent Eastern Wayne High School graduate Jake May unwrap his journey from cancer patient to survivor, they rose together and cheered the young man on.

"Go Jake," one woman yelled. "You go, boy."

His story, in the year-plus since he was diagnosed with leukemia, has spread across the county and beyond -- the local high school baseball player who fell ill his senior year and the community that wrapped its arms around him.

But Thursday, many, for the first time, got to hear it in his own words.

They learned that he had put off seeking treatment for a sore throat so he could make it through his pre-winter break exams -- that local doctors sent him to Duke University when they couldn't put their fingers on just what his body was attempting to fight off.

They heard the emotion in his voice when he talked about being diagnosed with cancer -- when he accepted the reality that he wouldn't be able to join his teammates on the diamond.

"I think that was the most I've cried probably in my whole life," Jake said.

And he walked them through 14 months of treatment -- a time period he characterized as "the new normal."

"You know, before, it was go to school, go to baseball practice, work out and hang out with friends. And now, the new normal was go to Duke every Friday, the next four days, lay in bed suffering the effects of chemo, then, maybe you get a couple of good days and go to baseball practice, but when you go, I still had to wear a mask. I couldn't shake hands," Jake said. "Wherever I went, cancer came with me."

But then the young man did something people didn't expect.

He told them how lucky he felt, despite all he had endured, to be alive -- that the death of fellow high school baseball player Kevin Wise made him realize just how fleeting life can be.

"I mean, he had the whole rest of his life to look forward to. It made me realize that pain is temporary. You know, whether it's six months of treatment or three years, this, for me, is temporary. I pray to God that it's temporary," he said. "But Kevin won't get that opportunity. ... It reminded me that I can't take things for granted."

And he, again, perpetuated his reputation as one of the county's most inspirational figures by, instead of cursing the hand he was dealt, embracing the man he said his cancer fight molded him into.

"It can be hard to stay positive. I mean, the first thing you're gonna ask is, 'Why me? This isn't fair. I'm young. I'm healthy. Why me?' But ... it was so easy to stay positive because of all the support I had," Jake said. "I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. Things knock you down like that, but you've got to roll with the punches.

"You know, sometimes I think, 'I wish this didn't happen. I wish I had never gotten cancer.' But if (I hadn't), I wouldn't be who I am today. It made me a stronger person."

The 2013 Relay is scheduled to take place Friday, May 10, at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

Jake will be there.

Eunice will, too.

And Mrs. Barnes is confident that thousands of local residents will join them -- that this year's main event will shatter organizers' $450,000 goal.

It is, after all, far more than just a fundraiser, she said.

"It's about more than just money. It's about research. It's about a cure."