While walking down Beaman Street Saturday, Christy Detwiler proudly held a torch in the air before it was passed to fellow cancer survivors. With each step, the fire continued to burn while Detwiler and other community members took a stance against the disease which kills millions of people each year.
The Sampson County Relay For Life held the first half of its Torch Walk Saturday, which began at the Oncology Center and continued through downtown. It ended when the torch was placed outside of the Christian Family Life Center.
“It’s a wonderful day of fellowship and supporting one another,” said Detwiler, chair of the local group. “Cancer is a scary diagnoses. When you’re going through it or when you overcome it, you need each other.”
The second half of the Torch Walk will not take place until Sampson County’s Relay For Life event which is scheduled for 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, June 5 at Clinton High School, 1201 Elizabeth St. The torch will then be walked from the church into the Dark Horse Stadium.
Through the Relay for Life, Detwiler said the event gives participants the opportunity to connect with each other. Each year, more than 4 million people raise money to help patients and to raise awareness across the country, with thousands participating in Sampson, alone. The American Cancer Society serves as the parent organization for the effort.
“We’ve become a family,” Detwiler attested. “We’ve met some wonderful people and we support each other. We just help each other through this fight. That’s what it is; it’s a fight for your life.”
Her fight began in 2009 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It included a double mastectomy.
“I’ve chosen not to have reconstruction because I want to show people that it’s OK,” she said about the removal procedure and being a survivor. “It certainly brought me closer to God. I know that he’s with each and everyone of us all the time.”
During that period in her life, Detwiler said she had just moved to Virginia with her family. “The community reached out to us and just took care of us,” she said. “I think God brought us to this place because he knew the people here would be supportive and just fall in to be our family.”
During the walk, Sandy Weikert, a 15-year cancer survivor, smiled as she raised the torch high, with onlookers from shops observing. Like Detwiler, Weikert said she was very fortunate and blessed to have overcome the dark period in her life, with the assistance of Tom, her husband and caregiver.
“Keep on fighting,” Weikert said. “Don’t give up. For cancer, early detection is the best. Continue your faith. Without faith, it’s very difficult to get through something like this.”
Weikert helps people going through the battle by joining support groups and assisting other survivors.
Later that evening, stories such as Weikert’s were shared during a dinner for cancer survivors. During the speeches, faith and support were the recurring messages. After enjoying the dinner and entertainment from the Mt. Vernon Church Hee Haw group, Lynda Naylor placed her pink handprint to a canvas outside the building. Under the print, she wrote her name and “4 years.” Her mark joined plenty of others who survived a fight with cancer. The activity was fitting for Sampson County’s Relay for Life theme, “Hands of Hope.” Local participants are celebrating 20 years.
“Don’t give up hope,” she said about fighting the battle. “Just have faith and don’t give up.”
For Naylor, it was a wonderful experience for the survivors to be together during the dinner. Like many others, the survivors received support from volunteers and others who have been effected by cancer.
Volunteer Nettie Wilson Pernell’s mother, Nannie Wilson, died from breast cancer. She also lost friends and other family members. “We come out to support each other,” she said. “When you’re passionate about something, you can’t help but do what you’re supposed to do.”
Pernell spent her 60th birthday celebrating with cancer survivors. She serves as a captain for Lisbon Street Missionary Baptist Church’s Relay for Life team. During the dinner event, Pernell helped survivors with the handprint activity. It’s one of many the organization conducts to spread awareness.
“A lot of people don’t know and will not take the time to go get checked out,” Pernell said.
Ashley Golden, a community manager for Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society, said having such events allows for community members to unite for the cause.
“It allows our survivors and caregivers to know that they’re not alone in this battle,” she said. “People are going through the same experiences and it kind of makes them feel a little stronger to know that they’re not alone.”