Last month, Lincolnton native Cheryl Burgess got to go up on stage, receive an award and give a speech at a glamorous event with celebrities in attendance.
It was not the Golden Globes and Burgess is no actress. The occasion was Charlotte-based radio station 107.9â€™s Link Leading Ladies banquet and Burgess was being honored as the stationâ€™s 2006 Link Leading Lady of the Year. Burgess was chosen to receive the award over 41 other â€œLeading Ladiesâ€ honored for giving back to their communities in 2006.
A Lincolnton native, Burgess was president of the Lincoln County Home Builders Association, the co-chair of Lincolnton Relay for Life and a new mother in 2005 when she heard a word that no one ever wants to hear: cancer.
It was April 27 of that year when Burgess was diagnosed with breast cancer, a bitterly ironic twist, considering her involvement with Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society event that has become a big part of the fight against cancer.
While working at Loweâ€™s Home Improvement in 2001, Burgess became involved in Relay for Life by joining co-workers on a team at the event. She joined the planning committee in 2002 and has been on it ever since.
All the planning in the world could not have prepared Burgess for what lay ahead, but her work with Relay for Life was a source of comfort throughout the ordeal.
â€œI knew that I had a support team,â€ Burgess said.
â€œWeâ€™re all so passionate about fighting cancer. Knowledge is power. Having been exposed to so much information from the American Cancer Society, I felt I was armed with some knowledge.â€
Burgessâ€™ mother is a colon cancer survivor, and Burgess â€“ who is about to celebrate two years of clean blood work â€“ is one of three cancer survivors on the Relay for Life committee.
In addition to her tireless work for Relay for Life, Burgess still serves on the board of the Lincoln County Home Builders Association. She also has two full-time jobs, one at Modern Electric and Plumbing Supply in Denver and one as a wife to husband Scott and mother to 2-year-old Kathryn.
Recognizing Burgessâ€™ contributions to her community, as well as the positive approach she took to fighting cancer, friend and customer Julie Mosteller nominated her as a Link Leading Lady. In May 2006, Burgess was given the honor.
It all came as quite a surprise to Burgess.
â€œWhen they called, I had no idea what they were talking about,â€ said Burgess.
She would soon find out. Burgess went to the radio station studio in Charlotte and was interviewed by Ramona Holloway (of The Linkâ€™s Matt and Ramona radio show). The interview was broadcast on June 1, and soon Burgess found herself a bit of a local celebrity.
â€œI had people call and say theyâ€™d heard me on the radio,â€ Burgess said. â€œThat was scary.â€
Burgess thought she had nothing to fear when she attended the Link Leading Ladies banquet on Jan. 25. She remembers seeing the big novelty check the station had to represent the $2500 donation it would make to the winning ladyâ€™s charity.
â€œI told my husband that Lincolnton Relay would love that,â€ said Burgess.
She recalls Holloway saying that The Linkâ€™s management had reviewed the applications and chosen the Leading Lady of the Year. Burgess still had no inkling that her name would be the one called.
Sitting at a table with other nominees, Burgess was sure she did not stand a chance. One of the nominees was a brigadier general in the U.S. Army â€“ the only female general in the army.
Against competition like that, Burgess was sure she would be leaving empty-handed.
â€œWhen they called out my name, I didnâ€™t know what to think,â€ Burgess said. â€œI had to give a speech. It was the first time in my life I didnâ€™t know what to say. I donâ€™t remember what I said.â€
In addition to the $2500 donation to Relay for Life, Burgess received a plaque in recognition of the honor and she was mentioned on the radio.
Most important, perhaps, Burgess will have her voice heard throughout 2007 as she speaks out on cancer awareness.
â€œI will be a speaker for the American Cancer Society at different events,â€ said Burgess.
Of course, Burgess will also work for the American Cancer Society as this yearâ€™s chairperson for Lincolnton Relay for Life. She is truly proud of Lincoln Countyâ€™s involvement with Relay for Life and is especially pleased that Lincoln County residents have shown enough passion for fighting cancer to warrant two Relay for Life events, one for Lincolnton and one for East Lincoln.
â€œWeâ€™re all working toward the same goal,â€ Burgess said. â€œItâ€™s really unique that Lincoln County has two events.â€
Burgess says there is a sense of healthy competition between the two events, as each group spurs the other on to do better.
The Lincolnton group already has 40 teams working hard to raise funds for the American Cancer Society in anticipation of the Relay for Life event, which is essentially a community celebration in honor of cancer survivors and in memory of those lost to the disease. The group is hoping have about 50 teams total, equaling last yearâ€™s number.
The theme for this yearâ€™s Relay for Life is â€œRelay with the Starsâ€ and the celebration will include a â€œDancing with the Starsâ€ take-off, which will feature some surprise guests and promises to be a highlight of the event. Burgess did reveal that Chris Suchan, WBTVâ€™s morning weather man will be a special guest.
As Burgess prepares for Relay for Life and for the speaking engagements she will take on in 2007, she wants the people of Lincoln County to recognize that she is not the only â€œleading ladyâ€ out there.
â€œI would really like to see more women from Lincoln County nominated for this program,â€ said Burgess. â€œWomen make such a huge impact on Lincoln County. There are a lot of women who contribute to the community, in Lincolnton and Denver.â€
Although Burgess has already been honored for giving back to her community, she is far from finished giving.
Want to get involved? To nominate a deserving lady for 107.9 The Linkâ€™s â€œLink Leading Ladies,â€ visit the website at 1079thelink.com. For more information about or to participate in Relay for Life, visit the website at ncrelayforlife.org or contact Cheryl Burgess at (704) 736-5786 or email@example.com.
by Allyson Levine