Hundreds of area residents gathered together at East Lincoln High School’s Relay for Life event Friday evening to remember both the lives lost and lives saved from cancer in connection with the American Cancer Society’s 100th Birthday.
“We pray for an end to cancer,” Pastor Brian Early, of Huntersville’s Journey Church, told the crowd during the event’s kickoff celebration.
Best friends Shirley Ballard, 77, and Sue Belk, 70, both of Iron Station, sat talking and waving their American flags while smiling and watching event activities from the school’s stadium steps. Both donned purple survivor shirts and chatted about each of their cancer struggles.
Ballard, who beat breast cancer after having a mastectomy in 2009, is still undergoing treatment for lung cancer and is set to have radiation on her brain later this spring.
Although her thin, white hair has fallen out in patches and sat short and choppy underneath her pink bonnet Friday, she believed additional treatment is just a necessary precaution at this point and not evidence of a losing battle.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s (cancer) over and done,” she said. “I feel like I’m good.”
She called her friend “tough as nails,” describing Belk’s resilient character through a similar bout with breast cancer five years ago.
The two met at Faith Baptist Church in Iron Station at the onset of Belk’s fight and noted how both their friendship and the compassion of additional people in the community helped them each maintain a positive outlook during sickness.
Denver residents Carol and Bruce White said they considered themselves cancer “warriors” rather than survivors.
“We are warriors…because we are actively fighting against cancer,” Carol said.
As co-leader of Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support group and “look good, feel better” volunteer for the American Cancer Society, her goal is to spread hope to cancer victims who have yet to enter remission.
“I understand what they’re going through,” she said.
She said God healed her from breast cancer 14 years ago so she could use her story to encourage others.
“God is using me,” Carol said. “He’s given me compassion to have an empathy (for others), not sympathy.”
Her husband, however, has encountered a variety of cancer types over the years including colon, liver, prostate and skin and is currently cancer free.
“God’s been very good to us,” she said.
For Debra Taffi, owner of Lake Norman Gymnastics in Denver, Friday was her third consecutive Relay for Life celebration. She said she remembers walking the event track without hair during her initial year.
Following six rounds of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and multiple surgeries for the stage three breast cancer doctors diagnosed her with on her daughter’s 24th birthday in 2010, she is now healthy and even received a clear scan in January.
Taffi said one of her chief motivations for staying strong when sick was waiting to fulfill a promise she made to her only grandchild to take her on a family beach vacation the following year — a vacation she had to miss the year she was diagnosed.
She not only praised her father — her “hero” — for his consistent support during her cancer fight, taking her to every single treatment, but also credited her Christian faith as her primary source of strength.
“Even when you’re curled up in the corner of the couch (physically) alone,” she said, “you’re still not alone.”
Relay for Life participants camped out at the stadium Friday night and concluded the event with an 8 a.m. closing ceremony on Saturday.