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An evening of celebration: Dinner honors cancer survivors and caregivers

Neal Wilkinson enjoyed singing for Relay for Life events, both in Rowan and in other counties. He willingly gave of his time. Yet, a diagnosis of prostate cancer in April of 2009 gave him a whole different perspective. Wilkinson said, “I remember my first survivor walk and how emotional it was. I remember a friend telling me that now I was a member of a club, one that you didn’t want to join.”

“We all have some challenges. I feel very blessed to have had the support of my wife, Sandra, but also of everyone else in this club. It is very reassuring when you are in the middle of the battle. Remembering that battle prompts a lot of emotions about tonight. I am also blessed to have survived when so many have not.”

Over 290 cancer survivors and their caregivers gathered for a meal of togetherness. Organized by Tisha Goodwin, the gathering was held at First Baptist Church in Salisbury. Goodwin, former Chair of Rowan County Relay for Life, said, “I feel like I am returning to where I started. I lost a nephew, two-year-old Adam Myers, to cancer in 1994. Survivor Linda Storie asked me to come to a meeting and I ended up chairing the survivors’ dinner. Now I am back again. It is a family reunion to me. I love seeing the survivors, wanting always to offer encouragement and hope. We’ll celebrate tonight with those that have beat cancer for many years and at least one who has known of her cancer for one day.”

Goodwin pointed out attendees that had special stories, but said, “Honestly, they all do.” Each survivor was recognized and photographed signifying their years of survival. Johnny Shook sat with his wife, Lois. Shook, according to Goodwin, works hard at keeping other survivors smiling. He said, “I try to lift up everybody and make them happy.” Shook often wears a T-shirt with, ‘I have chemo-brain, what’s your excuse?’ printed on it. He knows all about chemo, now having beat cancer for 17 years and a diagnosis of “6 months to live” after contracting Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Shook said, “We just try to handle things day to day. I spent 44 days at Baptist. They were so good to me. Following a stem-cell transplant, they let me go home after I proved I could walk all the way around the transplant unit.”

Common were the stories of those who had beat cancer more than once. Kim Julian McCreary has survived ovarian cancer twice, and has been cancer free for 18 years. She currently is the caregiver for her mother who has skin cancer. McCreary said, “I make sure to get my checkups, as everyone should. I always tell others that a positive attitude will beat this thing. An open heart, an open mind, and an open billfold for cancer research all help too. If not for these things, we might not still be here.”

Saturday’s production was a huge undertaking. Sherri Trexler, who lost her mom, Margie, to metastatic pancreatic cancer, took photos of all the survivors. Trexler, who keeps involved with Relay for Life, said, “I send online e-mails to the teams, while chairing fundraising and photography. I need to be doing my part. The $1 extra dollar I raise might find the cure.”

First Baptist Church, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Thelma’s, Marlow’s, Rouzer Motor Parts, Inc., West Rowan High School FFA and Alumni, Catawba College and a host of volunteers all had a hand in the special evening. The meal was provided by BJ and Friends. Sweet Frog gave 50 pies for dessert. Flowers recognizing survivors and caregivers were given by Food Lion.

Special entertainment came from Carson High School and Savannah Shaver, Jimmy Reiff and Corbin Elliott.

Raffle items were donated by Sam’s Car Wash, Godley’s Garden Center and Nursery, Randy Hall Automotive, Sweet Potato Queens, O’Charley’s, Village Grocery, K-Dee’s Jewelry and JR Motorsports.

Sweet Frog, like many of those mentioned here, will be at Relay for Life on Friday, May 1. Goodwin said, “We have had as many as 10,000 people at Relay. It’s much more than ‘Raise money and walk.’ I want to thank all the volunteers for their help tonight.”

Determination was a common theme among the survivor discussions on Saturday night. Ivey Cline was chronicled in the Post after her breast cancer diagnosis in October. 2014. After three series of eight-week chemo treatments, her double mastectomy and complete reconstruction were scheduled and performed this past Wednesday. On the previous Friday, she decided to go out for 6.2 mile run alone, determined to complete the distance.

Cline said, “It gave me time to think about all that has happened. I felt so close to God, and so thankful for all the wonderful people along the way since my cancer diagnosis. I appreciate my health. I hope too that I can inspire others and keep a positive attitude.”

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