Ask 15-year-old Tyler Graham how it feels to be a 15-year cancer survivor, and he doesn’t hesitate.
“I feel good,” he says.
Graham had an early brush with fate after doctors discovered he had a cancerous blastoma at the back of his skull when he was two months old. But with early intervention and treatment, he was able to live, and Thursday he joined the Egypt Baptist Church youth choir in singing for other survivors at the Relay for Life survivors banquet.
This was the first year Relay for Life of Ashley County has hosted a survivors’ banquet in advance of the actual Relay events, which will start with a survivors’ lap at 6 p.m. Friday.
“There is so much going on the night of Relay, and we wanted to do something a little more personal for the survivors,” Relay for Life of Ashley County Chair Stephanie Craig said. “But we will still have a tent for the survivors like we have in the past.”
During Relay for Life, cancer survivors and supporters will walk laps around the track at Yarbrough Field in Crossett, and the 26 registered teams will have a friendly competition with each other to raise money to donate to the American Cancer Society in search of a cure.
At the dinner, 45 survivors gathered with family and friends to remember their own past medical struggles, look to the future and plan their walk in defiance of disease and in remembrance of those who didn’t make it.
Sixteen-year-old Faith Puddlephat of Hensley was the featured speaker at the banquet, telling her story of a young diagnosis with bone cancer in her femur — she was two — that eventually resulted in the partial removal of her right leg.
Because she was so young when she was initially diagnosed, she doesn’t really remember a life pre-cancer.
But Puddlephat has been cancer-free for 13 years, and is now in her fifth year of dance. She’s done ballet and will soon begin tap, and the prosthesis she has on the lower half of her leg isn’t keeping her from continuing.
“I may not be able to do some (of the dance moves) the way the other dancers can, but I can modify it it,” she said.
Others at the banquet just expressed gratitude for having come as far as they have.
Yvon May of Crossett learned she had colon cancer in 2014 after her cardiologist wanted to find out why she was losing blood.
When a scope down her throat didn’t reveal anything, he ordered a colonoscopy, which discovered the cancer.
It was difficult news, May said, and what followed were difficult times. Rounds of chemotherapy immediately followed a surgery that removed nine inches of her colon.
“It was tough stuff,” she said. “When I was going through the chemo, I didn’t think I would make it.”
She did, though, and the doctors declared her in remission in 2016.
“The Lord has blessed me, and I am doing great,” she said.
May said she was never involved with Relay for Life before then, but she’s on board now.
“I can’t believe who I see here and how good they look,” she said. “The ones who work with Relay have been wonderful to me.”
Craig said this year’s Relay does not have a fundraising goal, but last year it was able to raise approximately $56,000.
The events Friday will last until midnight, and will include a luminary service at 9 p.m. Individual luminaries can be purchased for $5.
Craig said many people have been touched by cancer, and seeing everyone coming together at Relay for Life for the common cause of defeating it is worth the attendance.
“With so many people in the community coming together to raise money to find a cure, it is amazing to me,” she said.