Relay For Life is a celebration for cancer survivors and for the lives of family and friends lost to the disease.
Cherokee County’s event is open to the community, and organizers invite everyone to come and show support of the survivors by cheering them on, walking with them or participating in other activities, like the silent and live auctions.
Proceeds of the fundraiser stay in Cherokee County and are used to help area patients with needs such as gasoline cards to go to and from treatment, wigs and prosthetics.
Several of LaDonna Coffield’s family members have faced cancer. She’s been a volunteer with Relay For Life about 16 years, starting in Coffeyville, Kan. When she was a little girl, she lost her grandpa to cancer, and she has an aunt who’s a 13-year survivor of colon cancer. Another aunt is coping with breast cancer right now. “When I worked at Wal-Mart in Coffeyville, they had a Relay team,” said Coffield. “That’s when I started.”
This year, Coffield chairs the Tahlequah event, May 30-31. This is her third year to have a family team in the local Relay For Life.
The luminaria ceremony has always been her favorite part, when bags containing candles are lit in honor of a loved one and glow along the track.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the American Cancer Society, so the local Relay organizers chose to use the ACS’s theme, “Finish the fight before cancer reaches another century.”
A survivor dinner is planned for Wednesday, May 28. They’ll receive their Relay For Life survivor T-shirts at the dinner, said Coffield. Stilwell Mayor Ronnie Trentham, a cancer survivor, is guest speaker.
“The survivors who have signed up should have received their letter of invitation to the dinner,” said Coffield.
Eighteen teams are currently signed up for Relay For Life. There will be drawings, live music, a disc jockey, and survivors will receive a gift bag.
“There will be games like Relay Musical Chairs, a water obstacle course; food, like popcorn, turkey legs, snow cones and cotton candy; and entertainment all evening long, including a live and silent auction,” said Coffield. “We appreciate all the volunteers, especially the Boy Scouts, who always set out the luminaries, do a flag ceremony and come back to clean up trash.”
One-year survivor Neoma Core was still in treatment last year and needed a helping hand, participating in Relay as she was able. This year, she looks forward to being a helping hand to others.
“I was working and had no family history,” said Core. “You just don’t think about it unless it happens to you.”
For Core, last year, everything was still so new, including chemotherapy, but at Relay, she found people who cared.
“You realize there are people who care – people just like you, a group of people I’ll belong to the rest of my life,” said Core. “It’s not something you ever want to develop, not a group one ever hopes to belong to. But they have that understanding. We’re a sisterhood and brotherhood.”
When she went to the track for the survivor walk, she wondered if she is truly a survivor, and she started to cry.
“A lady from Peggs, I think, took my hand and reached out to me,” Core said. “’I’ll walk with you,’ she said.”
“This year, I think maybe I can reach out to someone; it made all the difference,” said Core. “January 2013 I had breast cancer, and here it is, May 2014.”
She accompanied her daughter last month in Lawton for the Susan G. Komen Walk.
“I think the research that’s taking place gives us hope for the future. Thirty years ago, cancer was a diagnosis like a death sentence,” said Core. “This morning, I worked in the yard, planting flowers. I feel very healthy, and had a great team of health care professionals.”
Survivor Eddie Seabolt retired last May, thinking he was healthy, but by July, he was hospitalized for 25 days with stage 3 colon cancer.
Pain in his stomach kept him awake one night, and again a week later. The third time he experienced the pain, he drove to W.W. Hastings emergency room and his doctor told him he thought he had colon cancer. Tests verified the fact.
“I’d never had a colonoscopy. I was never one to go to the doctor; I didn’t like to,” said Seabolt. “I sure encourage people to get them now.”
He did have an appointment already scheduled for the day after he went to the ER.
“I’m a survivor of cancer. I didn’t know if I’d be here; I was even on a ventilator a few days, but slowly and surely, I’m coming out of it,” said Seabolt. “I have eight grandkids and six kids; I want to be here a while to help take care of my family.”
He believes God answered his prayer to just let him live a little longer. Now he’s taking steps to improve his chances. Every morning, Seabolt is out walking.
“I’m going to pay my dues by helping out with Relay For Life,” said Seabolt.
Last year, he was taking chemo at Tahlequah Oncology when Registered Nurse Cindy Johnson asked him to be on her team.
“I feel honored to get to go to Relay For Life,” said Seabolt. “I like meeting other people, it makes you feel better if you know some other people who’ve gone through what you’ve gone through.”
The Cherokee County Relay For Life survivor dinner is Wednesday, May 28, at 5:30 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church for survivors who pre-registered. The Relay For Life begins at 6 p.m., Friday, May 30, and ends Saturday, May 31, at the Northeastern State University track.