Rowynn Ricks and Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Teams at this year's Relay for Life in Woodward had a party.
A birthday party that is, as they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the American Cancer Society (ACS). They also celebrated how ACS seeks to help all cancer patients celebrate more birthdays.
So during Friday night's Relay birthday party, the guests of honor were, as they are every year, the many local cancer survivors.
The News visited with just a few of these brave battlers who shared stories about their individual journeys to overcome cancer.
Luke Spray, 1-month-old
Diagnosed a week before his mother Tecia Spray's due date, when an ultrasound found a mass in his abdomen. He was delivered at OU Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City and at just 4-days-old, he underwent surgery to remove the tumor which was "the size of a grapefruit."
Spray said her son Luke was "almost a 10-pounder" when he was born, "but 8 ounces of that was the tumor."
However, she said her little guy is "so strong" and has fared well through this difficult time.
"He's great, just like a normal newborn," she said.
After spending 3 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Spray said Luke is now home where the family can fully enjoy their newest addition.
But the doctors will continue to monitor his condition through monthly blood tests, she said.
Spray said what has helped the most through this "terrifying" situation is all the prayers that have been sent up on Luke's and his family's behalf.
"There's been so many prayer chains in Northwest Oklahoma and other states just praying for him," Spray said.
She is grateful for those prayers because she knows God is answering them.
"You have to realize you're not in control and put it in God's hands," she said.
She is also grateful for the Relay for Life and its goal of raising money for the American Cancer Society to use for cancer research.
"We need to find a cure, because I wouldn't wish this on anyone," Spray said. "It's scary knowing your child might have cancer and then to hear there was cancer in the mass. So hopefully we can find a cure so other families don't have to be scared."
In addition to the money it raises for research, Spray also supports how ACS raises awareness about cancer and that it affects everyone.
"You don't ever think your child will go through this," she said. "You always think that cancer affects older people and you can sometimes almost forget that it can affect people of all ages."
Josh Henry, 27-years-old
Diagnosed with testicular cancer one year ago.
Two years ago, Henry wouldn't have guessed that a year later he'd be facing the fight of his life.
But July 5, 2012, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 26-years-old, he became acutely aware of the gift he had been given in his life.
"I'm not done with my fight yet," Henry said. "But I'm still fighting and I do it for my kids, Cheyenne, Dusty and Layonna."
Helping him all along the way has been the American Cancer Society.
"They have just been great, giving us gas cards so we could afford the trips and also all the information about what treatment and recovery options I had," Henry said.
Kim Kirkley, 46-years-old
Diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 7 years old. In addition to a surgery to remove the tumor, she received "what was called cobalt (treatment) back then and also had radiation."
Kirkley said she is "very lucky to be here" and is now doing "very good." She said she hasn't had any other cancer diagnoses since her childhood illness.
She said what helped her get through her battle with cancer were her family and friends. "That's the best medicine yet," Kirkley said.
In addition to her own experience with cancer, she said, "I have family members who had cancer and friends who had cancer."
Because of that she has been a longtime supporter of the Relay for Life in Woodward.
"I've been involved since Day 1 here," she said. "When it first started I walked in the survivor lap, but over the years I've been on the Relay committee and walked with several teams."
This year she is with the BancCentral Relay team.
For Kirkley, the Relay for Life "is very important because we need awareness about cancer."
She said because of money raised through the Relay, the American Cancer Society is able to fund awareness campaigns to "tell people about the importance of getting screenings and do what they can to protect themselves from getting cancer."
Fay Bellows Dodwell, 66-years-old
Diagnosed with uterine cancer 47 years ago
Dodwell is a fighter. She had to be because when she was born as a triplet, she was the smallest, just 2 pounds. She was so small in fact that her grandmother fetched her from the morgue section of the hospital where doctors had lain her, put her in a shoe box, and warmed her on the cook stove at home. "That was my incubator," Dodwell said. Then, 9 days later, the historic Woodward tornado ripped through town, but she survived that as well.
So in 1966, when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, she just took it in stride.
"They couldn't touch me at the time because I was 2 months pregnant," she said. "So then I went on to have 3 more children. And then they finally made me have the surgery."
Dodwell has been cancer free since then.
She said she participates in the Relay "because this is a celebration of life."
For her it is a special celebration because it gives her a chance to visit with friends and fellow cancer survivors that she only gets to see once a year at the Relay for Life.
Diagnosed with kidney cancer 13 years ago.
With bright, beautiful green eyes, Woodruff is the picture of health for a senior. Thin and built like an athlete, she has spent her life tending the home with her husband.
But in 2000, when she learned of a tumor in her kidney, she just wanted to get it out of there and get on with her life.
"And everything was great," she said. "They took out my kidney and found they got it real early and I have had no trouble at all with it."
Diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago.
Wilferth has beaten cancer, but if you ask her what memory sticks with her about her cancer, the answer might be the trauma of hair loss that came with it.
For that reason, Wilferth dedicated her life as a beautician and included in her shop, Cherlyn's Style Shoppe, wigs and turbans for those who are going through what she went through 20 years ago.
"I keep the giving going because we have to keep it all going," Wilferth said. "I support ACS because I have been through it and I know what they mean."
Diagnosed with melanoma 42 years ago.
When Murlin had to go see her doctor because of problems with her gall bladder, she took the opportunity to tell him about a funny little black mole on her back she noticed.
"He told me that when he took out my gall bladder, he would try and remove that mole if he could get me turned over to do it," Murlin said. "He did and sent it off and it came back as melanoma and so he got me back there and took a little more skin from around the area."
Since then, Murlin hasn't had any reoccurrences.
But she continues to show up to ACS events for a very obvious reason.
"It's a good cause and we need a lot more research done on cancer."
Gerald Murlin (Erma's husband)
Diagnosed with prostate cancer 6 years ago.
Murlin is not a very talkative type, but he sat Friday evening right next to his wife and enjoyed the evening with other friends, all survivors of cancer.
Murlin feels lucky that his cancer came at a time when technology has changed the options one has when dealing with cancers and he thanks the American Cancer Society for that advancement.
"I got to have the cryotherapy for my treatment," he said.