Grayson County cancer survivors, friends and family members sat down and shared a meal with together Tuesday night, celebrating those who have beat the disease.
In an effort to support and connect those affected by cancer, Relay for Life of Grayson County hosted its annual Survivor Dinner at Grayson College in Denison. The guests, more than 130, sat with one another at round tables where they ate and shared stories of their experiences.
“The purpose for this dinner is to honor cancer survivors,” Judy Brewer, event organizer and member of the Relay for Life Event Leadership Team, said. (Brewer is an employee of the Herald Democrat.) “We want to let them know that there is a community of people who have gone through similar things. And it’s also to honor their caregivers, who are, a lot of the time, the unsung heroes of the fight against cancer.
Brewer lost her sister to cancer in 2015. She said her sister’s death emboldened her to get involved in the fight against cancer through Relay for Life. The organization and the Survivor Dinner, she said, offered support when she and others find it difficult to withstand the many hardships that come with cancer.
“She was my best friend and my favorite person,” Brewer said of her sister. “But I’m not the only person in this room who has lost her sister, who has lost her friend, who has lost a loved one. So, having that kind of community, you don’t feel alone when you lose someone or have to watch them go through treatment.”
One familiar face among the survivor dinner crowd was Tom Miller. While many may know him as a meteorologist for KXII, Miller is also a cancer survivor. Miller said he was first diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer, 12 years ago.
“There was a big knot in my stomach when I first found out,” Miller said. “It took a couple deep breaths before I could ask my doctor, ‘What do we do?’ “
Miller said he underwent a biopsy and a minor surgery to remove the cancer and was given the same treatment again when his cancer returned in 2010. He said he is fortunate for the fact that his cancer has always been detected early and that his treatment has always been minimally invasive, but he acknowledged that not everyone is dealt such a hand when it comes to cancer. Miller said his father-in-law was diagnosed with colon cancer and the treatment side effects he endured — nausea, weakness and hair loss — redefined his understanding of how hard cancer can be.
“I went to the oncologist with him and was there for the procedures that he had to undergo, the chemotherapy and radiation,” Miller said. “That was a different and very difficult side of it that I didn’t have to go through. It was really an eye-opener.”
Breast cancer survivor Patti Haines said she too was unaware of how intense cancer treatment can be until she went through it herself.
“Before I got cancer and before I went through chemo, I did have empathy for people who have it, but it wasn’t enough,” Haines said. “Once I went through that, I realized how much these people need support.”
For those who must provide that support from the sidelines as a friend or family member fights cancer, Haines said the best thing they can do is assist only with tasks that their loved one can’t complete on his or her own. For all other matters, she said, it’s best to let that person retain their normal independence and to simply lend an ear when it’s needed.
“Just let them do what they can still do,” Haines said. “That was the biggest thing for me. As long as I could work and as long as I could do what I did every day, I felt I was winning and the cancer wasn’t.”
As she sat at a corner table, looking out into the room of survivors and their supporters, Haines said all were connected to each other.
“We’ve been down similar roads, so we know what it’s like and we know how much it means to have someone there beside you,” Haines said. “This is a family, and it’s where we get our strength.”