HAMLET — Hundreds of people packed the Cole Auditorium parking lot under the blazing Friday afternoon sun to participate in the Richmond County Relay for Life to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
Members of more than 30 teams turned out for the event attended by cancer survivors and supportive friends, relatives and groups from the community.
With the lighting of luminaries — in memory and in honor of people lost to cancer and those still battling the disease — still hours away, Lindsay Poston surveyed the white paper bags outlining the walking route.
“We have over 500 luminaries out there now,” Poston explained. “Everything starts at six and ends at midnight. Different things happen all night with people singing, there’s a kid’s walk this year, so there’s tons of stuff to do.”
Matt Poston, Lindsay’s husband, took a long draft from a bottle of water. He said his job is to assist in oversight of the luminaries.
“We tag-teamed it this year and last year as well,” Matt Poston said. “This is our second year doing this. I’ve done a team, and Cameron (Whitley) asked me to participate on the committee and help do luminaries.
“We enjoyed it last year and we’re enjoying it this year,” he continued. “It’s just a new experience every year and we enjoy everything we do.”
Matt Poston, himself a cancer survivor, said he was first diagnosed 10 years ago.
“Then the next year, I was diagnosed with cancer again,” he said. “This time in the lymph nodes. But I’ve been cancer free since 2009. One of the reasons I got into relay was because of the cancer that I had. My father had cancer and my grandmother had cancer — unfortunately she passed away from cancer a long time ago. But it affects everybody. That’s why we’re in this fight.”
As team members and survivors began filling the bleachers and manning their tents wearing the iconic purple T-shirts of Relay for Life, local women Frances Smith and Elaine Layton sat chatting together while shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun. Both of them wore sashes emblazoned with the word “Survivor.”
“They found my cancer 10 years ago in August,” Layton said.
“They found mine in February of ‘06,” Smith said. “I had acute myeloid leukemia. Mine was in stage four.”
Smith said she did not have any dramatic symptoms leading up to the time of her diagnosis, but that she had been feeling “off.” After fighting a bout of flu in January and the ensuing complication of pneumonia, she was transferred to a hospital in Wake Forest, where she said she received all of her cancer treatments.
“I stayed in the hospital five weeks the first time,” she recalled. “Then I came home for two weeks and was back there.”
Smith remembers several hospitalizations interspersed with time spent at home before she received her final treatment in May. These were ultimately followed by a series of infections related to her suppressed immune system — which lead to more hospital time.
“It was a long battle to get myself back,” she said. “But God did it and the doctors told me that it was only through God that I survived.”
Layton said her battle with cancer began because she knew her body and could tell that something “was not right.”
“I kept talking to my doctor, and telling my nurse practitioner that there was something not right,” she said. “So finally they checked it, and I was sent for tests. Nothing showed up on my mammogram or ultrasound, so they said come back in three months. Then, something showed up. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer.”
She had surgery, four chemotherapy treatments, and was put on medication for five years.
“So now, as far as I know, I’m cancer-free,” Layton said. “They tell you, you know your body, and if something isn’t right tell your doctor. Keep on ‘til they check it and find out what’s going on.”
Both women lost their husbands to cancer. They know what it’s like to fight it on many fronts.
“I think (Relay) is important because there is help out there,” she said. “There’s research. Money goes to research and helping more survivors, so we can have more survivors than this.