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Hugh and Sue Tilson were honored during Tuesday’s survivor’s banquet and referred to as “trailblazers” for having started a chapter of the American Cancer Society in Watauga County 34 years ago and subsequently introducing Relay for Life to the community.

By Sherrie Norris

Originally published: 2014-06-04 09:19:57
Last modified: 2014-06-04 09:31:45

Tilsons honored at Relay for Life Survivor's Banquet

by Sherrie Norris

Hugh and Sue Tilson, who 34 years ago organized the area's first chapter of the American Cancer Society and subsequently introduced Relay for Life to their community a decade later, were honored at Tuesday's Survivor's Dinner and Celebration.

Sponsored annually by Watauga County Relay for Life, the event was held once again at the Family Life Center of Greenway Baptist Church in Boone where approximately 250 people joined together to celebrate survival.

Glenda Hodges, former Relay for Life co-chairwoman, who assumed the role with her daughter-in-law, following the example of the Tilsons' leadership, spoke on Tuesday about the "tremendous influence" the Tilsons have had on the High Country area and its fight against cancer.

Sue Tilson chaired Relay for Life for many years, with the help of her husband who covered logistics "in perfect order," Trivette said.

The husband and wife team are both cancer survivors. Hugh was diagnosed with kidney cancer 16 years ago; Sue successfully overcame breast cancer 34 years ago. She learned earlier this year that she now has lung cancer.

"I never smoked a day in my life," she said, but indicated that she had been around secondhand smoke most of her life, especially while growing up with parents who were heavy smokers.

Hodges spoke of how the Tilsons encouraged her participation in Relay for Life soon after the death of her first husband from cancer, how she and her family came together as a team to support Relay, and how she and Sharon Trivette (Sweeting) eventually became the leadership team with the Tilson's support.

Referring to them as "trailblazers," Hodges said, "Sue and Hugh are a dear couple and some of the best friends that I could ever hope to have. They taught Sharon and I what we needed to do. I love them both and thank the Lord for putting them in my life."

For many years, Sue Tilson also represented the ACS's Reach to Recovery program for women cancer patients in the area, as Hugh helped men through the Road to Recovery.

On behalf of Laurel Springs Baptist Church and its Covers of Comfort group, Gail Gross, fellow church member of Hodges and current Relay co-chairwoman, Kathy Idol, presented the Tilsons with handmade shawls, something the church group has provided to someone special at the banquet for about five years
Corrie Freeman, keynote speaker at Tuesday's event, put a unique spin on survivorship by saying it's all about what cancer can do, rather than what it can't do.

A fourth grade teacher at Hardin Park Elementary School and single mother to her "wonderful 12-year old nephew, Andrew," Freeman told her audience, that upon her diagnosis in May 2013, she was inundated with inspirational quotes, poems and sayings related to cancer.

"Many of them began to sound the same to me -- 'You are stronger than you think,' 'You're a fighter,' etc.," Freeman said.

One article, titled "The things cancer can't do," struck a chord with her, she said.

"It made some really good points, but I began to challenge myself during my treatment to look for things that cancer can do."

Freeman shared 10 key points, with examples, that brought her to those conclusions from her diagnosis of endometrial cancer, through surgery, extensive treatment and to the day when she was given the "all-clear" news:

- Cancer can make you more resilient than you ever knew possible.
- Cancer can be part of your story.
- Cancer can be beautiful.
- Cancer can teach you to be loved.
- Cancer can bring you new friends.
- Cancer can help you connect with other patients and survivors.
- Cancer can make you laugh
- Cancer can teach you about friendship
- Cancer can make your family stronger.
- Cancer can strengthen your faith.

Freeman said her journey began with "some unusual stomach pain," which led to the diagnosis and a radical hysterectomy one month later; she soon began six rounds of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation therapy.

"I am proud to say that I am currently cancer free," she said.

Freeman added that she would never have gotten through it all without her faith in God and the love of family and friends.

(See Sunday's Watauga Democrat for more on her walk of faith.)

"This entire evening has been set aside to honor local cancer survivors," said Kathy Idol. "You are the reason we are here tonight."

Idol also referred to National Cancer Survivor's Day, which was on Sunday. "Recent statistics tell us that there are currently19 million cancer survivors in America today with that number only expected to increase significantly in the next 10 years because of the great strides that are being made through research and advancements in diagnostic capabilities and treatments."

Idol was joined by her co-chairman, Brian Barker, who provided the invocation.

Barker also recognized the Relay for Life general committee, teams, corporate sponsors, the media, ACS staff partners and volunteers.

Appreciation was expressed to Outback Steakhouse manager, Paul D'Ambrosio and his staff, who for 12 years, have provided the celebration dinner and donated their time and service for the event.
Also, to Greenway Baptist Church for the use of the Family Life Center for the celebration and regular team captains meetings, and to Hospitality Mints for providing mints every year, and to the corporate sponsors that make it all possible.

Representing the ACS were Melissa Hiatt (community manager), and Carrie Phillips, new Relay for Life Specialist, who will represent the counties of Watauga, Ashe and Avery, as well as Appalachian State University, in their annual events.

Hiatt told the survivors, "You are our hope and our future. You are what gives other people hope."

The traditional candlelight ceremony, led by Barker and Idol, signaled an end to Tuesday's celebration, honoring the survivors and remembering those whose lives were lost to cancer

Relay For Life in Watauga County will be held on Friday, June 20 beginning with set-up at 1 p.m. and continuing through midnight.

See upcoming issues of The Watauga Democrat for more information.