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Cancer survivors, caregivers honored at 21st annual event

By KELSIE LEROSE

Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va.  — Everyday heroes filled the Knights of Columbus Sunday afternoon for the 21st annual Celebration of Life.

Breast cancer survivor Connie Ahrens, left, lights multi-myeloma cancer survivor Wendy WIlliams’, right, candle for the candle-lighting ceremony as survivor Kim Dumire looks on. Williams, the Survivor of the Year, spoke at Sunday’s 21st annual Celebration of Life ceremony in Marion County.
(Photo by Kelsie Lerose)

Every year the event is held the first Sunday in June, which is recognized as National Cancer Survivors Day. The Celebration of Life honors all cancer survivors and their caregivers.

Sharing and Caring Cancer Support Group, co-chaired by Stella Hawk, hosted the event. Hawk said these events are being held worldwide to celebrate the 10.6 million survivors who are living beyond the diagnosis of cancer.

“Today we are celebrating, as we should every day, our greatest gift, which is life,” she said. “Every day you are a hero … You do not wear a special hat, a special cape or a certain uniform, but your courage, your super strength and your faith demonstrates you know what it is to be strong. You are a hero.”

Sunday’s program featured survivor speaker Wendy Williams and caregiver and support member Annie Martin.

In September 2015, Williams was scheduling preadmission tests for a right knee replacement.

When her son Paul came to visit, he insisted that she go to the doctor because she looked sick to him. That was when blood work revealed that she was anemic, and she was admitted to Fairmont Regional Medical Center.

Williams was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — a cancer of the plasma cells, a white blood cell found in bone marrow that helps the body fight off infections.

Hematology oncologist Dr. Verma removed a sample of bone marrow from her right hip which indicated that Williams was a candidate for a stem cell transplant, she said. She was then referred to the West Virginia University Cancer Institute.

“Fortunately, my journey was between Fairmont and Morgantown,” Williams said. “This meant that my stem cell collection and transplant would be performed as an outpatient. Being able to return home each evening added a positive element to my well-being and recovery.”

Williams said the power of faith and prayer, plus the support and guidance of friends and family, carried her through her her transplant and the chemo and radiation treatments. Her bone marrow transplant March 10, 2016, was a success, and she is currently in remission.

Her message for the afternoon was how fortunate people of North Central West Virginia are to have access to world-class cancer research, highly skilled doctors, medical facilities and support.

“These resources are at our disposal within a short driving distance reducing the travel to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore,” Williams added. “We have excellent support groups like Sharing and Caring that are always ready to assist us, our families, friends and caregivers.”

Williams finished by saying in the crowd she sees, “Everyday heroes who are an inspiration to me.”

Martin said her mother, Sharleen Hammell, was diagnosed May 8, 1996, with breast cancer — only a few weeks before Martin would graduate from high school and her brother from would graduate from college.

“She stayed so strong during her mastectomy and all of her chemo treatments,” Martin said. “Life went on as it used to until June 2004. That is when we learned the breast cancer had returned in her bones.”

Over the next 12 1/2 years, Hammell’s family watched her go through chemo and radiation with very little breaks in her treatments.

“My mom was such a trooper through all of it,” Martin said. “I realized she had a strong will to live to see her two kids grow and accomplish things in life, and to see her three beautiful grandchildren be born into this world.”

 Her 20-year battle came to an end Nov. 14, 2016

“We miss her every day,” Martin said. “Me and my brother were so blessed to have a mother like her and for my kids, Zadia, Aiden and Zander, to have such a wonderful mamaw, even when she felt awful or tired.

“She was a great friend to those in need, whether you needed a pep talk … or if you just received the awful news that you have cancer. The Sharing and Caring Group in Mannington gave her another reason to live along with all of the relays over the years.”

Martin added that her mom took a lot of pride in the Celebration of Life event.

“I know she would be very proud,” she said.

Prior to the candle-lighting ceremony, the crowd took part in the reading of “What Cancer Cannot Do” which states:

“It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot destroy peace. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot suppress memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the could. It cannot steal eternal life. It cannot conquer the spirit.”

The Marion County Relay for Life will take place beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at Palatine Park.

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