“Prevail, endure, persevere and then my all time favorite tough guy,” Chesapeake Beach Mayor Patrick “Irish” Mahoney said, looking for synonyms for the word survivor. “We who survive are tough guys and tough gals.”
Mahoney told his story of being diagnosed with cancer at 50 and being cancer free for 14 years to hundreds of participants at the 25th Annual Relay For Life Calvert County on Saturday at the pier in North Beach.
The event for the American Cancer Society has raised more than $81,000.
“I fought the monster and I beat the monster and that’s what us survivors do — we fight and we win, and that’s why we’re resilient and that’s why we’re here,” Mahoney said.
Volunteer Tammy Lumpkin said the loss of her mother 10 years ago to cancer was the impetus for her involvement in the Relay For Life. This year she is one of the event leaders.
“If you’ve heard the words ‘you have cancer’ one year ago or less … ” Lumpkin said, lining up participants in groupings of 1 to 5, 5 to 10, and more than 10 years of survival.
Lumpkin encouraged each group to turn around and face the survivors behind them.
“If ever there were a symbol of hope that cancer will be defeated — you’re looking at the faces of that hope right now,” Lumpkin said, noting the illness is not an easy journey.
Prince Frederick resident Mildred Chew-Hill, a 40-year cancer survivor, was celebrated by all at the event.
“Forty-seven years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Chew-Hill, who was participating for her third time in the annual event with her granddaughter, Imani Hill.
Chew-Hill said four decades ago there were so many unknowns in breast cancer and that medical treatment was not as advanced as it is today. As a result, the doctors put in place a new system to treat her to include removing her entire breast.
“I’m still here. I’m still here,” Chew-Hill said with tears of joy. “I ain’t going nowhere.”
A bald woman quickly made her way through the large crowd that was congratulating Chew-Hill on her survival. The woman stretched her arms out for a hug once the two ladies were eye to eye.
“I’m just starting my journey,” Shady Side resident Carmelia Hicks said to Chew-Hill, as the pair cried while embracing for nearly a half a minute.
Hicks was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in April and is currently undergoing treatment, which has caused hair loss.
Hicks joined the team from Peter’s United Methodist Church in Dunkirk, her cousin’s church, and said she was inspired by Chew-Hill and the many other survivors at the walk.
“Knowing that there’s hope, and if you have faith, you can conquer anything,” Hicks said. “You just can’t give up.”
Peter’s United Methodist was one of more than 60 teams participating in Saturday’s fundraiser and walk.
Another was the Patuxent High School cheerleaders. For one cheerleader, the event served as a sad reminder of the amount of loss her family has endured at the hand of cancer.
“My great-grandfather died of cancer 10 years ago. My great aunt four years back,” Patuxent sophomore Kelsie Pitcher said, noting that another member of her family is also currently battling cancer.
Caregivers were also celebrated at the event. Lumpkin said they are often “unsung heroes and infinite part of a cancer journey.”
Owings resident Debbie Zagwodzki, a two-year breast cancer survivor, attended the walk with friend, co-worker and Dunkirk resident Beth Daniel.
“I’ve been there for her to cry on my shoulder at work,” Daniel said, noting that she was in fact a caregiver for her brother who did not survive cancer.
Caregiver, event lead and former deputy state’s attorney Kathryn Marsh, has been participating in Relay For Life for 13 years. Marsh is currently an assistant state’s attorney in Prince George’s County.
“I lost three uncles to cancer,” Marsh said. “My brother survived stage 3 melanoma.”
Marsh said her sister-in-law recently succumbed to cancer and that “after getting our diagnosis, we decided to step up our participation.”