By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Lee County cancer survivors Bob Griffin, Lillian Buse and Faye Clement know how precious birthdays can be.
The three cancer survivors can count 66 birthday celebrations among them since they were diagnosed.
“You can live with cancer,” said Clement of Tupelo.
Relay for Life is a celebration of that determination to keep living.
“People need to realize cancer is just a word,” said Griffin, who was selected as the 2009 King of Relay. “You don’t let this stuff get you down. You’ve got to get out and have fun.”
Griffin, Buse and Clement will be among the many cancer survivors who will be feted for their continuing birthdays at the Lee County Relay for Life on June 11 at Tupelo High School. More than 30 teams will celebrate their efforts on behalf of the American Cancer Society, and the public is invited to join in.
“It’s fun for people to come out and join the Relay fun,” said Michelle Mauldin, a breast cancer survivor who is serving as chairwoman of the Lee County Relay for Life, along with Donna Kingsley.
Volunteers across Northeast Mississippi are throwing birthday parties in honor of cancer survivors in their communities with the aim of supporting the American Cancer Society, which has made more birthdays a central part of its message.
Already, the Relay for Life events in the
region have raised nearly $300,000, and there are still eight to go.
“The Relay season lasts through August,” said Melonie Counce, a community representative with the American Cancer Society.
That money supports American Cancer Society’s well-known research program and cancer information services that are available on-line and by phone.
The money also helps fund support services for cancer survivors and their families such as Man-to-Man support group for prostate cancer, Reach to Recovery for breast cancer patients, Look Good Feel Better for women who are going through cancer treatment, and the I Can Cope support groups. The American Cancer Society funding also helps provide transportation for cancer patients going through treatment.
Relay for Life lets people who aren’t doctors and nurses join the fight.
“It gives us the opportunity to do something that is making a difference,” said Kingsley, who has been involved with Relay for Life since 1995 and lost her mother to cancer in October.
Putting time and energy into Lee County Relay for Life and other cancer causes is personal for Clement, who has lost four members of her family, including her identical twin sister, to cancer. Her husband is a cancer survivor.
“Anything involving cancer – that’s where our contributions go,” Clement said.
Clement was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 1988. She took three treatments of chemotherapy before surgery and then nine months of chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments. They told her – 21 years ago – she likely had a year to five years of life.
“You’re not supposed to live with that,” Clement said.
Buse, Clement and Griffin are all active with the I Can Cope support group in Tupelo. They hope they can provide encouragement to people who are recently diagnosed that there is a lot of life to live.
“It doesn’t bother me to talk about it,” said Buse, who shares the insights from 30 years as a cancer survivor with other members of the I Can Cope cancer support group. “The meetings we have are about fellowship and support of each other.”
Buse was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1979 at the age of 52, when uncontrolled bleeding sent her to the hospital. She was treated and they were about to send her home when pathology reports showed she had cancer.
She spent the next month in the hospital going through treatments, but the aggressive treatment has paid off in three decades.
“Dr. Bill Kahlstorf (her doctor) said I should thank the Lord every day,” Buse remembers.
Griffin, now 44, who lives in Plantersville, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1997 at the age of 31.
“It can happen to anybody,” Griffin said.
He went through surgery and six months of chemotherapy.
“It probably isn’t coming back, but we have it checked every six months,” Griffin said.
Lee County plans
The Lee County Relay for Life will go all night at Tupelo High School stadium on June 11.
Survivors, then caregivers, will take the first two laps of the evening.
More than 30 teams will have individual campsites at the Tupelo High School stadium and will be selling refreshments and more. The survivor’s tent will have special activities for cancer survivors, and kid’s corner will feature a rock climbing wall and inflatables.
“It’s fun for people to come out and join us for Relay fun,” Mauldin said. “It’s clean family fun.”
The night’s entertainment will open with Relay’s Got Talent show. The competition will be open to team members and the public, who can participate for a $25 entry fee.
“The winner will get to be on the radio with Craig Horton” of Sunny 93, Mauldin said.
At 10 p.m., the Relay will have the luminaria ceremony, where candles are lit in memory of those who have lost the battle and to honor those still fighting.
The Relay fun will continue with a Womanless Beauty Review and a midnight Fight Back ceremony.
“It’s kind of like a pep rally,” Mauldin said.
The entertainment will continue through the night and culminate with 6 a.m. closing ceremony and light breakfast.
American Cancer Society
The Official Sponsor of Birthdays
National: (800) 227-2345 or cancer.org
Tupelo: (662) 844-8544
Relay for Life
– Alcorn County: 6 p.m. Crossroads Regional Park Soccer Fields, Corinth, Judy Pylate, (662) 415-1871. Theme: Groovin’ For A Cure.
– Baldwyn: 5 p.m. Latimer Park, Baldwyn, Shelaine Pennington, (662) 687-0457. Theme: Hooray for Relaywood.
– Pontotoc County: 6 p.m. courthouse square, downtown Pontotoc. Call Kim Easterling.
– Union County: 5K Walk For a Cure benefitting American Cancer Society, 7 a.m. at the Tallahatchie Trails. The entry fee is $15. To RSVP for T-shirt size, call Monica McDonald at (662) 266-1670 or 538-2372.
– Calhoun County: 6 p.m. Bruce Football Stadium. Theme: “Let’s Celebrate Purple.”
– Lee County: 6 p.m. Tupelo High School football stadium, Call Michelle Mauldin, (662) 279-4236. Theme: Birthday Party.
– Marshall County: 6 p.m. Sam Coopwood Park, Holly Springs, Gracie Echols, (901) 233-7207. Theme: Birthday Party.
– Monroe County: 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Frisco Park, Amory; Jamie Morgan, (662) 256-9606. Theme: Birthday Party.
– Prentiss County: NEMCC Football Field, Booneville.
– Union County: 6 p.m. New Albany SportsPlex, Lori Campbell, (662) 317-0300. Theme: Birthday Party.
These are the preliminary estimates raised by area Relay for Life events already this spring. These totals include money that will be used to cover event costs.
– Itawamba County: Raised $132,700
– Tippah County: $28,400
– Tishomingo: $31,000
– Ole Miss: $37,500
– Oxford: $62,000