Eunice Massengill and her daughter, Julie Banner, have been faithful volunteers with Relay for Life for as long as it has been in Wayne County — 25 years.
Massengill has a list of people whose circumstances prompted her to back the cause, which raises money for research through the American Cancer Society.
“I lost my father-in-law to lymphoma, then I lost my brother 18 years later to leukemia, it started out as lymphoma, my mother-in-law to lung cancer and the last and most of all, my husband, almost nine years ago to lung cancer,” she said.
This year, though, the motivation hit close to home.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer on Aug. 28.
“At 8:35 in the morning,” Massengill recalled, “my doctor called me, and I was not expecting that.”
In January, she completed chemotherapy and is preparing for a lumpectomy later this month, after which her health care team will determine the next steps.
On Thursday evening, she was surrounded by family at the kickoff of the 2019 Relay for Life, pausing to pose for a group picture and later enjoying granddaughter Emma Massengill perform a dance during the program. Daughter-in-law Carey Massengill, Emma’s mother, also sang as part of the evening’s entertainment at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.
Eunice Massengill admitted that being on the receiving end of a diagnosis has been “kind of unreal,” but that will not stop her from supporting Relay.
“I just want to have people say, ‘I have another birthday!’ ” she said with a smile.
Banner, an English teacher at Eastern Wayne High School, said her students, as well as alumni, have also rallied behind the cause as well as the family.
The theme for this year’s fundraiser is “There’s No Place Like Hope,” a reference to the popular movie “The Wizard of Oz.”
“We are celebrating that we are getting closer to a cure,” said people lead Paula Cox. “Everything that we do is for the purpose of getting closer to a cure.”
Cox, decked out as the Cowardly Lion, was among the three recognized for having outstanding costumes for the occasion. The other two were Justin Sims, as Wizard of Oz, and CeCe Thornton, the Wicked Witch.
Brenda Robinson, community development manager, said this year’s emphasis boils down to A-B-C-D — we are activists, we deliver breakthroughs, we build community and we provide direction.
“We’re attacking cancer from every angle,” she said.
Volunteers for the May 17-18 Relay event are always needed, she said, as well as support for such programs as the Road to Recovery, which offers rides to cancer patients for treatment.
The honorary survivor chairman this year is Jody Nassef, who shared some of his experiences at the kickoff dinner.
He was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2007. January marked the 11th anniversary for the survivor.
“It was bumpy to start with,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish chemo and radiation on anybody, but once I got through that, everything’s been great.”
His treatment included two months of radiation with a low-grade chemo pill, followed by six months of a high dose of IV chemo, he said.
Even though it’s been more than a decade, whenever he hears about someone being diagnosed, it feels like yesterday, he said.
“I can put myself back to the day that I found out,” he said. “The emotions — it’s like I’m just finding out, and I know what they’re going through.
“I want to hug them and tell them, this is what’s going to happen, but you’re going to be fine.”
Now 40, he was only 29 when his cancer journey started. He and his wife, Anne, had also had their first child.
The couple now has four children, three sons and a 6-month-old baby girl.
Having family support definitely helped, he said.
“After the initial shock set in, I got through everything and realized that my life would never get back to normal,” he said. “I get checkups once a year, but I think just being around family, that was consistently pushing me.
“There were days I didn’t want to get out of bed.”
He was surrounded by a few of those relatives Thursday evening — including his dad and stepmother, Joe and Sandra, his mother, Tanis Lassiter, Anne and the couple’s 9-year-old son, Jacob.
For more information on the local event, visit www.relayforlife.org/waynenc. To learn more about the American Cancer Society and its programs, call 800-227-2345.