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Ashley Ward, 19, right, is recognized at Tuesday’s celebration as the youngest cancer survivor
in attendance. Ward, who is expecting her second child, was accompanied by her aunt, Brenda
Prim, and her cousin, Alixas Clark.
Photo by Sherrie Norris

Originally published: 2013-05-31 14:59:14
Last modified: 2013-05-31 14:59:14

Watauga County Relay For Life banquet honors survivors

by Sherrie Norris

From cancer victim to cancer survivor -- that's how school social worker Amy Michael described her journey during her keynote address at Tuesday's Cancer Survivor Banquet, sponsored by Watauga County Relay For Life. 

The event was again held at Greenway Baptist Church in Boone where approximately 250 people joined together to celebrate survival. 

Michael, who last year was named a "Woman of Influence" by the Appalachian State University Women's Center, told her audience, "Your survivorship is an inspiration to me."

Michael referred to the assembled group as a club -- "of which I became a member about a year ago," when diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.  

"TNBC is an aggressive form (of cancer) that I had never known existed. I had no idea at the time that I was embarking on the most difficult, yet enriching, journey of my 44-year life," she said.

Prior to her diagnosis, Michael said she was lost in the hurried, scattered, busyness of her world.  

"My existence was getting through each day, not taking the time to stop and enjoy the wondrous gifts of each moment spent with the people I loved. My cancer, as I affectionately refer to the beast," she said, "slowed me down, shoved me into the darkness, took me to the edge and forced me to fight my way back."

Cancer made her come to terms with her own mortality, Michael said, calling it a challenge, but one that has set her free. 

"The truth is we all die; we don't know when or where or how. The best we can hope for is to make our time here count, to make it matter to the ones we love and touch, to live a good life, to be a good person, to make an impact on those around us," she said.

Michael told her audience that her transformation came once she accepted her own mortality. 

"I went from cancer victim to cancer survivor," she said. 

Her cancer also gave her many "gifts." "It allowed me to see that each day is a blessing. It gave me permission to truly acknowledge that love is all that matters. It made me let go of my resentments and allowed me to let forgiveness fill my heart," she said. "Cancer brought me to my knees and strengthened my faith."

She's grateful to the disease, she said, for showing her the way back to the important things, "For reminding me that love surrounds me each and every day."

Michael closed her presentation with a quote from one of her favorite poets, Maya Angelou: "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive. Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant." 

She also expressed a wish for the audience, "May the rest our days be filled with elegance." 

The evening was set aside to honor local cancer survivors, said Kathy Idol, co-chairwoman for Watauga County's Relay For Life 2013, scheduled for June 14 at Watauga County High School.

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, American Cancer Society staff partners, volunteers and survivors, the latter of whom he referred to as "our Reason to Relay." 

A token of appreciation was given to Outback Steakhouse manager, Paul D'Ambrosio, and his staff, who for 11 years, have provided the celebration dinner and donated their time and service for the event. Betty Koontz, owner of Watauga Building Supply of Boone, was recognized for underwriting the cost of this year's meal. 

Gratitude was expressed 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 each year.

Representing the American Cancer Society were Melissa Hiatt, community manager, and Lisa Bottomly, mission delivery director, who provided updates on current ACS research and information, including that for an upcoming cancer prevention study that will be held in Watauga County later this year. 

Sandra Cassidy, new director at the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center, spoke briefly about the history of the center, its staff and the many services it offers. 

Among the "latest and greatest news," Cassidy said, is the new health and wellness program recently launched for cancer survivors in partnership with the Paul Broyhill Wellness Center that is known as THRIVE. 

"I welcome you to visit me at anytime for any information or educational material that you might need," she told those present. "I will provide as much assistance to you as I possibly can." 

Cassidy said that the center sees annually an average of 225 new cancer patients.

Idol and committee member Gail Gross made a special presentation of a handmade shawl to cancer survivor Donna Eller, who Idol described as "someone who is always there to help with Relay For Life.
  Special music was provided by Clifton Moody, who said his song reflected the miracle that his wife experienced 10 years ago following a diagnosis of colon cancer and a dismal prognosis for survival.

"After surgery, her surgeon told us there was no sign of cancer -- nothing for him to remove," Moody said.

Nearing his 101st birthday, Robert Shipley was honored as the oldest cancer survivor in attendance; 19-year-old expectant mother Ashley Ward was the youngest. 

The traditional candlelight ceremony, led by Sharon Sweeting, signaled an end to Tuesday's celebration, honoring the survivors and remembering those whose lives were lost to cancer The song, "Every Candle Has a Name," was played as the "flame of hope" circulated the room -- a tribute that has become a Relay For Life tradition in Watauga County.