Cancer’s impact leads Oden to Relay
“This is Why I Relay” will be a regular feature during the weeks leading up to the Franklin County Relay For Life event on May 3. It will showcase different members of the community and why they support the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.
Russellville educator Sherry Oden began participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life event many years ago as a way to honor the memory of her mother, Mona Pounders, who passed away 30 years ago due to a malignant brain tumor and breast cancer.
Years later in 1998, cancer found its way back into her family’s lives when her father, Orval Pounders, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Because the disease had so affected her life and the lives of her loved ones, each year Oden said she would buy luminaries, which are bags that are lit the night of Relay in honor or in memory of those affected by the disease, and she would come to the event for a short time.
“I wasn’t part of a team, so I would normally take my luminaries and set up near the Russellville Hospital’s team because my sister worked at the hospital,” Oden said.
“We liked coming to the event and I liked being able to honor the memory of my mother and honor my father as a survivor, but that was the extent of my involvement at the time.”
As the years passed, Oden said she began thinking more and more about ways she could be more actively involved in supporting Relay.
“I saw the impact all of these teams were making,” Oden said. “I finally talked to my sister and said ‘Why couldn’t we do something like this with our church? Why couldn’t we have a team?’”
Those questions turned into answers as a Relay For Life team at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church began to come together four years ago.
“When we first got started, we actually had a church member who had been diagnosed with cancer and we did many of our fundraisers in her honor,” Oden said.
“She ended up passing away before the actual Relay For Life event took place that year, and that loss really hit home with us as we realized just how important it was to support events like Relay For Life that raise money to find a cure.”
Oden said she knew personally how important fundraising for the Relay For Life is through her experience as a caregiver for both her mother and her father.
“When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she had to travel all the way to Memphis for her treatments,” Oden said.
“There weren’t places near by where she could go and she would have to spend all that time away from home.
“And the treatments made her so sick. It was heartbreaking to see what she had to endure.”
But in the years since her mother’s battle with cancer, great strides have been made to improve the cancer treatments so patients don’t have to be so sick, and to create places, such as the Hope Lodge in Birmingham, where cancer patients can stay while they are receiving treatments.
“When my father was diagnosed with cancer, they caught it early and were able to treat it more effectively,” Oden said.
“He wasn’t near as sick as my mother had been and you could just see the difference all the research was making – research that was funded through the American Cancer Society and events like the Relay For Life.
“Being able to see that difference firsthand and knowing he was able to become a cancer survivor made me even more determined to press forward and continue fundraising to find a cure.”
Oden said she’s also spurned on by those who haven’t been affected by cancer yet in the hopes that they won’t ever have to deal with the things Oden’s loved ones have dealt with.
“My granddaughter is six years old, and I would love for her to never have to worry about getting cancer or someone she loves getting cancer,” Oden said.
“It would be wonderful to live in a world where we don’t have to dear this disease anymore.”
To do her part in the fight against cancer, Oden currently serves as a team captain for the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church’s Relay For Life team and she also is a member of the Franklin County Relay For Life Committee.
The St. Paul team plans several fundraisers throughout the year, and Oden said even through it does take some work to have a successful team, it isn’t hard when you have a team full of members who pull their own weight.
“I have such a wonderful team who is willing to work and do their part to help us raise money,” Oden said.
“Everyone has their own talents and their own special abilities and they just use those to help the team.
“And just about everyone has been affected by cancer in one way or another. We have family and church family who have been diagnosed, so we know what it’s like to go through that and we just want to help any way we can.”
And Oden said it wasn’t a hard process to get the team together.
“There are probably many people out there like I was who just come to the Relay For Life event but don’t actually participate fully, but it isn’t that hard to be more actively involved,” she said. “All it takes is a group of willing people, whether it’s a church like us or a business or just a group of friends.
“Anyone can have a team and make a difference.”
For those who are thinking about starting a team or for those who are interested in becoming part of an existing team, contact local ACS community representative Megan Lovelace at 256-767-0825 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The Franklin County Relay For Life will take place Friday, May 3, starting at 7 p.m. at the Russellville High School Stadium.