Cancer survivors were honored by Relay for Life Surry County with a dinner Saturday at Faith Baptist Church.
The annual dinner was attended by 175 to 180 survivors and caregivers, according to Dara Parsons, 2018 volunteer chairman for Relay for Life.
“We have a list of almost 400 survivors that we have put together over the years,” said Parsons. “There are probably some that we have missed, but we tried to get them all. That’s who our invitations went out to.”
The names of all the survivors were written on a yellow brick road that became a Wall of Hope, in keeping with this year’s Relay for Life theme, “There’s No Place Like Hope.” The yellow brick road was just one of many references to the theme from “The Wizard of Oz” throughout the evening.
Julie Gillespie delivered the keynote address, sharing her story with the cancer survivors and Relay volunteers present. Her cancer diagnosis was not without irony.
She had planned to do one of the longer cancer walks and injured her knee while training for it. During the course of having the injured knee treated, she was diagnosed with cancer herself.
“The doctor had finished with my knee and was on the way out of the room. He had his hand on the doorknob,” said Gillespie, “and he asked me if anything else was bothering me. I just mentioned I was having trouble swallowing. I don’t know how long I would have put off having that looked into if I hadn’t already been at the doctor for something else.”
She said she has had thyroid problems since her early 20s, and didn’t think too much of it, assuming her thyroid had become enlarged. An ultrasound showed four growths, three small ones and one that measured three centimeters. Gillespie had to wait three months to see the endocrinologist that was recommended. A biopsy was inconclusive, with the doctor telling her he was not concerned, but he was not not concerned.
Since Gillespie was already taking thyroid medication, the decision was made to remove the thyroid on March 19, 2012, along with the suspicious growths, and up her dosage of thyroid medication.
A week later, she found out she had stage two papillary carcinoma.
“The word ‘carcinoma’ was chilling,” said Gillespie. “I was asking, ‘Am I going to die? Who will take care of my kids?’”
But she said the most alarming part was the radioactive iodine she took which made it unsafe for her to be around other people for 10 days.
“They were putting something in my body that made me dangerous to other people. That was pretty scary.”
But several visits and a few follow-ups later, a full body scan on May 9, 2013, showed her cancer had gone into remission. She has been free of cancer ever since.
“People have been so good to me,” Gillespie said. “I want to help other people.”
Also helping other people Saturday were the scouts of Boy Scouts Troop 556 who decorated, assisted survivors at dinner and cleaned up afterward. Boy Scouts Landon Hiatt, Nathan Dowell, Juson Moncus, Las Thomas, Dee Dawkins, and Marc Hicks, along with Cub Scouts Jackson Collins and Ryan Harris were present to help under the leadership of troop leaders Chris Hiatt and Brad Collins.
Karen Haynes, Alison Hornaday, Tim Parsons, Brittany Parsons and Dara Parsons did the decorating for the evening, which featured a meal of grilled chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls and drinks prepared by 13 Bones. Faith Baptist Church, Union Hill Friends Church, Relay Committee and Food Lion supplied desserts.
Relay for Life Surry County Committee consists of Dara Parsons, Surry County chair; Sandra Meadows, committee development manager, Karen Haynes, Alison Hornaday, Lynn Rigney, Joy Richardson, Janice Beane, Pepper Mayes, Tim Parsons and Brittany Parsons.
American Cancer Society staff member Sandra Meadows wound up the evening by thanking everyone thanked and inviting them to the Relay for Life event, Sept. 22 at Veterans Memorial Park. Gates open at 4 p.m. Opening ceremony is at 6 p.m. with Survivors lap after the opening. There will be have games, entertainment and food. This is the last week for teams to register to get Relay shirts. But teams can still register.
Contact Sandra Meadows at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.