The annual breast cancer awareness event was held on the lawn of Wayne UNCHealth Care on Thursday evening.
Nearly 300 showed up for "Erase the Fear," to learn about options and resources available in this community, to hear doctors respond to questions and survivor Darlene Brady, an employee of the hospital for 26 years, share her own experience with Stage 2 breast cancer.
"I want to give a shout out to Wayne Memorial for offering all the services that they offer here close to home," said Brady, a clinical systems analyst, who suggested this year's theme. She said she was very blessed to be able to have all her treatments -- radiation, chemo, surgery, reconstruction and hyperbaric treatments -- in this community.
"I can tell people there's life after cancer because this is so treatable and so curable now through early detection, and we can erase the fear," she said.
There was also a fashion show featuring 14 survivors.
Each had a story of courage and a unique journey through their individual battles with cancer.
Some, nurses and staff from Wayne UNCHealth Care, fought it together, being diagnosed just months apart. They found themselves on the other side of it and despite all their medical training and years in the profession, ill-prepared for when the word "cancer" was applied to them.
But not everyone had a prominent place on the program.
There were many fighters in the audience, still others doing battle from hospital rooms and in their homes.
Julie Tolbert, seven years cancer free, was excited to be again attending the annual event.
"I come every year because God has been good. I'm cancer free," she said. "I mingle with sisters who have been through this, just to be an encouragement to somebody who's going through it -- that you don't have to give up, you don't have to succumb to it."
Darlene Austin of Seven Springs is fortunate not to be a victim of cancer, but said she knows plenty who have had it and showed up Thursday night in appreciation for what the hospital does.
Georgia Anthony is director of Project Access in Johnston County, which links low income uninsured patients with free health care services.
"Being in health care, I'm very supportive of health care for women, just preventive measures," she said.
Dr. Jim Atkins, oncologist at SMOC, Southeastern Medical Oncology Center, said much has changed in the approximately 32 years he has been in this community.
What has not changed, though, is his mission.
"Our goal has always been to see a cancer patient within 24 hours," he said. "If somebody has a diagnosis of cancer, it used to mean death.
"Our goal is to get them early, try to relieve the fears and make them understand what's going on -- quickly so that we don't waste their time and scare the living daylights out of them."
Atkins praised all the resources and health care providers making up this community -- from the hospital and physicians in his practice to orthopedics and the radiation oncology office.
"I feel very fortunate here in Wayne County, from a surgical perspective, there really isn't anything we don't have. Not every county can say that," he said.
Even unsuspecting observers were touched by the event.
"I'm stepping out of my comfort zone," said Susan Cottle, representing Belk, collecting donations for SMOC and holding a drawing for a plush robe bearing the breast cancer symbol.
An 11-year breast cancer survivor herself, she had been perfectly comfortable having that experience in the rear view mirror. Being part of the evening turned out to be a pleasant surprise, she admitted.
"It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you really can erase the fear," she said.