• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Relay makes small steps against a big disease

FRIENDS FOR LIFE: Rita Kirtley and Eveleen Morton grew up across Dunroven Drive from each other. Each has battled breast cancer, and took turns taking the other to the doctor they share. The friends participated in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life on Friday, May 20. (Photo by John McGary)

An organizer of Friday's 21st annual Relay for Life at the Woodford County Park said despite dreary weather and competition from a nearby play and Leo Fest, $56,152 was raised for the American Cancer Society. Peggy Carter Seal said she believed between 200 and 250 people participated in some fashion, with some coming by before and after the other events. For six hours, cancer survivors and their friends and loved ones walked around a loop in the parking lot of the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center. A survivor's reception at 6 p.m. was followed by the national anthem sung by Mandy Smith. At 7 p.m., survivors wearing purple shirts began walking, followed by caregivers and teams. Silent and live auctions followed, then the luminaria ceremony, with the candle-lit bags inside the pavilion this year due to the occasional sprinkles. Seal said one survivor told her that he preferred the luminarias inside the pavilion, rather than dotting the outside of the track as usual, because he could more easily read all the names. At 1 a.m., participants walked the closing and celebration laps. Seal said $11,252 was raised or pledged Friday night alone. Contest Winners: Best costume: Versailles Presbyterian Church's Greg Jones as Darth Vader. Best decorated tent: The Carter Crusaders (also featuring a Star Wars theme). Bunco Babes for Life In 1997, Mary Jane Phelps and a dozen friends began playing Bunco, a game involving three dice, flexible rules and a lot of luck. Nineteen years later, the membership of the group has changed a bit, but they still get together once a month to play the game and tell each other what's happened in their lives since the last time. "Now, we're kind of at the point where sometimes, we get together and we have so much to catch up on, we don't actually play ." said Phelps, a Woodford District Court judge. Last summer, along with tales of babies and weddings and family illnesses and passings, other stories were told: Two of the regulars had been diagnosed with breast cancer and later underwent mastectomies. "They went through this together and we were there for them and tried to help them through their recovery and everything, and we decided we wanted to give back and honor them, too, for being survivors," Phelps said. They adopted an official name, "Bunco Babes for Life," and began setting aside their winnings to be donated to the American Cancer Society (though the evening's winner still got to wear a crown home). Former Woodford County Treasurer Becky Wilson was named team leader and registered each member, all of whom took turns walking around the parking lot loop. Another "babe" designed t-shirts, another their tent sign, several made bake sale items, and all reached out to friends and loved ones for donations. Phelps said by early Friday night, hours before the relay ended, they'd nearly reached their goal of $2,200. "It has been neat because we've had kids during this time and celebrated birthdays and we're there for each other," Phelps said. "We've just gotten really close after 19 years ." Friends for life Inside a tent sponsored by Woodford County Roots and Heritage, two women who grew up across Dunroven Drive from each other sat a few feet apart. Eveleen Morton's bad knees prohibited a full lap around the lot, but Rita Kirtley took a stroll now and then. Kirtley was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago, and while she survived the disease that strikes one in eight women, it returned late last year and was found in her bones. She's in remission. "I'm fine, thank God," said the 55-year-old as she watched other survivors and supporters walk around the loop. "It's something to go through, but in the end, when you have faith in God and everything, you know everything's going to be all right. And so I'm just so thankful to be out here tonight and see all the people . because when you're first diagnosed, you think you're the only one in the world. But then when you see other people and get around other people, you know you can make it," Kirtley said. Kirtley and Morton, 69, share not only childhood memories, but also the same disease and oncologist. "We kind of help one another. She went for her treatments, and I went with her . and she did the same for me," Morton said. Morton said she was diagnosed in 2008 after doctors told her the lump she'd discovered was scar tissue. "And I said, 'Let's take a biopsy and find out what this scar tissue is, and that's how we found out that I had breast cancer," Morton said. The lump was removed and Morton underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Eight years later, she sees the oncologist every three months, including a visit two weeks ago. "At this point, I'm cancer free," Morton said. As the two friends for life sat next to each other and watched people take small steps against a big disease, Morton called the Relay for Life a blessing. "Because you know you're not alone. You know there are other people who are going through the same thing you're going through, and you just have to stay positive and keep your faith in the Lord," Morton said. "I know as long as I have faith in him, I will be all right." 'I was not losing my child' Cindy Watts was 34-year-old and pregnant last August when she learned why she felt worse than she had during earlier pregnancies. "I was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer that had metastasized to the liver," Watts said. Cancer treatments are limited for pregnant women, and for Watts, this would mean no radiation, less intrusive scans and three chemotherapy drugs instead of five. In order to give life, she would have to put hers at higher risk. Watts said more than one doctor asked if she wanted to abort the 19-week-old male fetus. Each time, she said no. "I told them if I had to give up the baby, that I wouldn't do it (the treatment). If I could go through the chemo and keep the baby, that was fine, but otherwise, I was not losing my child. I'd already had a miscarriage in March; I'd already lost one baby and I was not willing to do that," Watts said. She began treatment, with the doctors' goal limited to keeping the cancer from spreading. Meanwhile, she and her husband, Shane, had to decide what to tell their twin eight-year-old boys, Tyler and Brayden. "Originally, we just told them I was sick and they thought it was the baby that made me sick. So after I had the baby, they thought I was done with doctors' appointments, so we had to explain to them that it wasn't the baby, it was something else that made me sick ." Watts said. They know now that she has cancer; that the "fanny pack" she wears every other week carries not keys or a driver's license, but chemicals to fight her cancer. "They just know during that time, they need to help a little bit more and I just don't feel all that great," Watts said. She's been off work since her diagnosis, but co-workers at the state Transportation Cabinet have chipped in so much of their sick leave that, nine months later, she's still getting a paycheck. Friday night, she sat under the pavilion with her parents, Jim and Linda Clifton, and Caden, delivered early 13 weeks after a doctor told she had cancer. Caden spent 12 days in a pediatric intensive care unit, but displays a healthy appetite when his mother spoon-feeds him from a jar of baby food. A few yards away, other survivors and their supporters walked around the loop. "I love it. I think it's such great support. We need cheerleaders and this is a wonderful opportunity for that. Cancer looks so different in so many different people. Not everybody loses their hair, not everybody loses weight, and just to see everybody come out and be supportive is wonderful," Watts said. She's undergoing radiation treatments for the cancer that has spread to her spine, but Watts said most days are good. "I do have my breakdowns, but I know that I have four boys, including my husband, that I have to fight for, and that's what I will keep doing," Watts said.

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