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Breast cancer survivor Jane Hodges of Boone shares her story about how volunteers from a program funded by Relay for Life helped her through her illness. Sherrie Norris | Watauga Democrat.



Originally published: 2013-03-07 11:34:15
Last modified: 2013-03-07 11:52:12

Rally kicks off Relay for Life 2013

by Sherrie Norris

Together we can make a difference.

That seemed to be the main thrust of Monday's two-hour rally celebrating the official start of the 2013 Relay for Life fundraising season in Watauga County.
 
Aside from the actual round-the-track event in June, the annual kickoff is possibly the second most exciting day of the year for local leaders in the fight against cancer.
 
Monday's gathering, held at the Family Life Center of Greenway Baptist Church in Boone, united key leaders and long-time volunteers in the Watauga County Relay for Life family, as well as newcomers seeking information about forming teams and regional representatives from the American Cancer Society.
 
The meeting not only signified a new start, but it also honored the success of the 2012 event and numerous individuals and businesses that made it possible.
 
Among those singled out for awards included Della Presnell, who, for many years, has been recognized as the individual raising the most money in Watauga County; she continued that tradition in 2012 with her team of one raising $5,428 in memory of her late son, Ted Presnell.
 
For the second consecutive year, Amber Hamby, 7, a first-grader at Bethel Elementary School, was honored as the top fundraiser in the children's division, with $2,004. A member of Bethel Believers, her school's Relay team, Hamby is also a third-generation Relay for Life participant and attended the rally with her mother and grandmother.
 
Recognized as the Top 3 fundraising teams for 2012 were: Jerry's Intimidators ($12,407), Friends for Life ($11,946.25) and the Deerfield Dream Team ($9.005)
 
The Watauga County School system has been named one of 11 school systems in the state with 100 percent participation in Relay for Life; 90 school team members in Watauga raised  $21,092 last year.
 
Sara Speed, a longtime Relay for Life team captain and dedicated volunteer was named recipient of the 2012 Alma Harmon Heart of Relay Award.
 
Fifteen teams in the local Relay were added to the Grand Club list, having raised at least $1,000 each in 2012.
 
Sharing her personal story of  "Relay in Action," local breast cancer survivor, Jane Hodges, spoke of how "two angels" -- Deborah Kirksey and Mary Ruble -- representing the ACS Reach to Recovery program, made her journey easier to bear.
 
"They understood," Hodges said. "They had been there and knew what I was going through and they were there with me and my family when we needed them."

Hodges spoke of the duo's compassion and how their support led to her finding the courage and strength she needed to face her fears.
 
"I thank God for dedicated volunteers, like Deborah and Mary, who were with me at the hospital and visited me at home and in my office," she said. "And, they remembered me on my one-year celebration. Angels do not just happen."
 
Another poignant portion of Monday's event was Lisa Bottomley's "Survivor Story." Bottomley is a Sparta native and ACS affiliate who works closely with Watauga County Relay for Life as mission delivery director.

Eight years ago, Bottomley, a 32-year-old wife and mother of two small children, was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. She had a mastectomy followed by a series of chemotherapy treatments and has since been cancer-free.
 
However, she said, nothing could have prepared her for what she experienced in the last two years -- the throat cancer diagnosis and subsequent death of her brother, Mark.
 
"He never smoked, chewed tobacco or had any of the known risk factors," she said.

From a sore throat to a tonsillectomy to a positive biopsy for cancer within a few days was more than her family could fathom, she said.

Following 30-plus radiation treatments, clinical trials and a neck dissection, his prognosis "looked good," she said.

"The doctors thought they got it all. He was healthy and he looked good, but the cancer returned with a vengeance. His cancer was curable. He should have been cured -- his doctors told me so, but they also said he was in the 10 percent of the ones who are not cured."
 
When her family realized there was nothing else they could do, Bottomley said, "We made the most of the time we had left with him. Mark died three days before Christmas 2012."
 
Bottomley encouraged her audience members to tell their community why they relay.

"We all have our stories," she said. "People want to hear your connection. You need to know that you are doing it for the right reason."
 
Melissa Hiatt, Patti Bossert and Michael McKinney, representing ACS, were also present and provided updates and helpful information for successful fundraising and advocacy.
 
Kathy Idol announced that she and Brian Barker will serve as co-chairs once again for Watauga County's Relay for Life.
 
"Our goal for 2013 is $138,000," Idol said. "Since Relay began, we have raised more than $3.8 million in Watauga County alone. We were well over $300,000 in some of those years."

Idol said she would love to see a return to those previous levels.

"But we hope, this year, to at least make or exceed our goal," she said.

Last year's Relay, with 42 teams, 383 team members and 43 corporate sponsors, raised $137,306.42.
 
If the enthusiasm of those in attendance for Monday's kickoff is a sign of things to come, the 2013 Relay for Life in Watauga County, scheduled for June 14 at Watauga High School, will be another history-making tribute to survival.
 
Idol expressed appreciation to Subway, Domino's, Food Lion and Lowes Foods for providing food and sodas for Monday's event.
 
Relay for Life is the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society and is considered to be the world's largest grassroots fundraising movement.

For more information, including details for forming a team or joining a team, visit http://www.relayforlife.org/watauganc, or contact Idol at (828) 264-5240 or by email: (idolk7@yahoo.com)