Cancer survivors share stories of triumph at Relay for Life event

Published 12:05 am Sunday, May 5, 2019

By Shavonne Walker

SALISBURY — Melissa Gardner is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Alongside her throughout the whole ordeal has been not only her family, but her work family at Grace Academy.

On Friday evening, Gardner was surrounded by her support system and others in the community to cheer her on during the Relay for Life event held this year at the West End Plaza in what was the former JCPenney department store. Relay for Life is the main fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society.

Gardner discovered she had breast cancer after she injured herself in a fall.

There have been some challenges, Gardner said. It’s been the hardest things she’s ever faced.

“At this point, it feels like such an accomplishment,”  Gardner said.

She is two days post surgery and walked in step with the survivors during the Relay for Life survivors’ lap. Each year at the start of the event, survivors, along with their family, friends and supporters, take a lap around a track.

Gardner has also found support from her co-workers, some of whom are undergoing cancer treatments themselves or are cancer survivors.

“It’s made us stronger as a staff; we support each other,” she said.

Friend and co-worker Jody Weidemann attended with her children to support Gardner and walk in memory of her mother, Nancy Hill, who died of colon cancer.

Sherry Anthony has been fighting cancer for 14 years. She was diagnosed with colon and later breast cancer.

“I had it before and it came back,” she said.

Anthony had not been feeling like herself and had bloody stools. She went to her doctor, had a blood test and before she made it home, her doctor told her to turn around and come back.

Anthony walked with her family members including her sisters and husband, James “Butch” Anthony.

She and her family also provided hot dogs and other food during the Relay for Life event.

“It’s awesome. I’m going to do it every year I can,” she said of participating.

Jennie Davidson has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice — once in 2009 and again last year. She discovered cancer both times through annual mammograms.

She’d had cancer in one breast, underwent treatment and in this most recent visit with her doctor, had cancer in the other.

Her advice to women is to remember to do self-exams and don’t miss yearly mammograms.

Her husband, Bruce, said he supported her through prayer and encouragement.

“I look to God,” he said of his wife’s healing.

Unfortunately, cancer runs in Jennie’s family. In fact, her sisters have had breast, colon and stomach cancer.

She continues to live her life as normally as possible.

Those in attendance also heard from two people — Julie Blair-Carr, who is a survivor of stage 4 lung cancer and the other, Bill Burgin, who was diagnosed with and is a survivor of prostate cancer.

Carr was a non-smoker and was diagnosed in 2016 with stage 3A adenocarcinoma of the lung. She decided to undergo treatment and then her father was diagnosed with the same disease. He would later die after refusing treatment.

“I’m blessed to be able to be here,” Carr said.

She’s made it her goal to spread the word about lung cancer, which she said is underfunded and more deadly than breast, prostate or colon cancer.

Burgin, who is president of Ramsay Burgin Smith Architects, wrapped up his treatment earlier this year. He’d previously had Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) tests, but stopped. A few years ago he asked for the test and got what he initially felt was a devastating diagnosis.

“You never want to hear somebody tell you that you have cancer,” he declared.

He found strength from his wife, but found it hard to tell his son, a police officer in Cary. He made a promise to his son that cancer would not kill him. Later, he thought his final days were not up to him, but God, but he wanted to reassure his son that he would be OK.

He welcomes the opportunity to continue to tell his story and encouraged the men in the audience to get their PSA tests. He also inspired everyone to live their life with courage.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.