Fighting for ‘a place where cancer does not exist’

Richmond County unites to celebrate, remember, renew the fight at Relay for Life

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

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HAMLET — For some, the cancer survivors’ celebratory lap was bittersweet.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Allyssa Jordyn Beck, left, has had the complete support of her parents, Crystal and Lenny Beck, during the 22-year-old's three-round battle with Ewing's Sarcoma.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Allyssa Jordyn Beck, left, has had the complete support of her parents, Crystal and Lenny Beck, during the 22-year-old’s three-round battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma.

One on hand, it was a moment to remember the pain and sickness of having endured a nearly indescribable experience of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. On the other hand, the memory of loved ones who had lost their battle with cancer was simply overwhelming.

Many shed tears during the opening walk around the parking lot Friday evening during the 2014 Richmond County Relay for Life. This year’s event was moved to Cole Auditorium at Richmond Community College. And during the first, or any subsequent lap, survivors, family members and friends alike laughed until they cried — or cried until they laughed — to help the American Cancer Society raise as much money as possible to “finish the fight.”

It’s a battle 22-year-old Allyssa Jordyn Beck has had to endure not once, not twice but three times. Crystal “Chris” Beck, of Rockingham, said her daughter was first diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at 17. Jordyn was six months pregnant with her first child. Any decision could alter the life, or quality of life, of whoever survived.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Reaching out to lean on a friend was a natural part of the survivors' lap.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Reaching out to lean on a friend was a natural part of the survivors’ lap.

“We had to make some very hard decisions,” Chris Beck said.

The family was fortunate, in a way. The doctors assured Jordyn that chemotherapy would not harm the fetus. Beck said everyone worked to get Jordyn to at least 30 weeks, when the baby could survive on its own. On June 12 of that late spring, Maddison Paige Beck was born. Shortly after, Jordyn underwent intensive chemotherapy and surgery to excise the tumor. Doctors removed half of Jordyn’s hip and parts of her pelvis and leg bone.

Doctors told Jordyn she was in remission. For 14 months, life resumed a state of almost-normal. Then in 2011, doctors said the cancer had returned. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed in Chapel Hill, often keeping Jordyn away from her young daughter. In April 2012, Jordyn again was told her cancer was in remission. She resumed a somewhat normal life; she even enrolled in nursing classes at Richmond Community College.

“We were all devastated,” said Carol Beck when the family learned in March that doctors had found a tumor in June 2013.

Their lives were once again turned upside down. Once again, they all came out of it. On May 8, an exam revealed that the tumor was gone. It’s tough on Jordyn. It’s also tough on the parents, Chris Beck said of the emotional turmoil experienced by her and her husband, Lenny Beck.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The survivors' lap was emotional, one mixed with laughter and tears  of both sadness and joy. Pictured is survivor Kristi O'Boyle, left, with mother Mary Ellen Shea.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The survivors’ lap was emotional, one mixed with laughter and tears of both sadness and joy. Pictured is survivor Kristi O’Boyle, left, with mother Mary Ellen Shea.

“We wish every day we could take this away from her,” Carol Beck said. “It’s the most helpless feeling … when something like cancer comes along, there’s nothing you can do but pray.”

The mood wasn’t always so serious. In fact, much of the six-hour event felt more like a festival, a celebration of life and hope rather than something else. Among a smorgasbord of hot dogs, pizza, nachos, snow cones and cold drinks sold by the 39 registered teams — churches, nonprofits, local businesses and more, with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society’s efforts to find a cure — there was, in fact, a party atmosphere.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Crystal Smith, left, dons attention-getting attire to help make people smile. It worked.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Crystal Smith, left, dons attention-getting attire to help make people smile. It worked.

That’s exactly the feeling members of the Sandhills Regional Medical Center team wanted to evoke. Crystal Smith, of Hamlet, and Stephanie Hudson, of Rockingham, were decked out in the most attention-getting, silliest, fun-loving costumes they could find.

And they methods worked. Heading into Friday night, the team had raised the third-most of any of the 39 teams. They weren’t about to stop and rest on their collective laurel, either.

They were instead, said Smith, there “to support the survivors and the fighters” in any way possible, even if that meant making a reluctant man or a timid child crack a reluctant smile.

The fight hit close to home for Smith this year. On May 13, her father-in-law, Everett Smith, died at age 67 of lymphoma.

The annual Relay for Life became personal for Georgia Mulder and her family. Three years ago, cousin Donnie Gray succumbed to melanoma.Six months later, 19-month-old C.J. Salazar, died of a rare brain tumor.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com She's a survivor.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
She’s a survivor.

But grandson Nathan Graves didn’t realize any of that as he stepped to the booth of the Pee Dee & Zion United Methodist churches. He was simply having fun on one side of a cardboard cutout, peeking his head through a hole made just for that purpose. What Nathan couldn’t see — or read — was the message on the other side of the cutout: “Relay fighter,” read a marker-drawn helmet. “Finish the fight,” read the symbolic red jersey.

“He just thinks he’s going of ra walk with grandma,” said Mulder, of Wake Forest.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Nathan Graves, 2, visits the booth of Pee Dee & Zion United Methodist churches.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Nathan Graves, 2, visits the booth of Pee Dee & Zion United Methodist churches.

And she didn’t mind it a bit. Shielding Nathan from the realities of life for as long as possible is part of a grandparent’s job. While the young could enjoy the festival experience for exactly that, Mulder and Beth Gray — C.J.’s mom — could relate on a very real, very adult level.

The Mulder family, the Beck family and hundreds of others gathered Friday night yearned to see a day when the words of Rev. Ryan Blackwell, who prayed for the world to become “a place where cancer does not exist,” rang true.

With any luck, and a lot of faith, that day will come sooner rather than later.

* * * 

Proceeds from food sales all benefited the American Cancer Society. Heading into Friday’s event, the 39 registered teams, comprised of 654 individuals, had reported raising $80,536.96. The goal, according to co-event chairs Pam Davis and Kim Puckett, was $100,000.

Carol Capel performed the national anthem during the opening ceremonies and the band Dixie Ambush performed during the event. Later on, Capel and the southern gospel group Heavenly Accord were also scheduled to perform.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com A boy and his dad, along with a Mickey Mouse hat and some ice cream. All is right with the world.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
A boy and his dad, along with a Mickey Mouse hat and some ice cream. All is right with the world.

 

 

 

 

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  • Cheryl kelley

    I was not there to support my community, as I have moved away. Nevertheless, I was there in my heart and soul. I love you all dearly.. Keep up the fight !!! Stay strong!!!

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