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James’ mother inspired Relay support

“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.

If you asked Russellville resident Tonya James to describe her mom, she’d be quick to tell you that Gladys Yocom was one of the most important people in her life – someone she confided in, went to for advice, learned life lessons from and considered a best friend as well as her mom.
James and her mother experienced many things together throughout their lives, but one of the most difficult things this mother-daughter duo had to endure was Yocom’s battle with cancer that began with her breast cancer diagnosis in December 2007.
“After her diagnosis, my mother chose M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Hospital in Houston, Texas, for her treatments,” James said.
“The next year was filled with chemo, radiation, surgery and months away from our family while she received treatment.”
During this time, James, Yocom and the rest of their family got involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life event in Franklin County as another way to continue fighting against the disease that plagued her body.
“My mom was able to walk as a survivor at the 2008 Relay For Life and she carried the banner,” James said. “That was a special thing for us to participate in and something that was important to us.”
James said her mother continued to fight her cancer for the rest of that year and left M.D. Anderson in January 2009 with good reports from her doctors, and everyone was very optimistic that the cancer was in remission.
With news like that, it was a happy time for their family that was about to become even happier.
“When mother came home, I surprised her with the news that I was pregnant with our first child,” James said.
“I waited to tell her first, although we had known since Thanksgiving and my mom and dad were even with us the day we found out we were having a girl, which was such great news because that’s what Mom & I were wanting so that we could dress her up in beautiful dresses and big bows.”
James said she and her mother immediately began to shop for furniture and baby bedding for the new addition that was about to come into their family.
But in the midst of all the excitement, James said her mother began to feel bad.
“Mom kept saying something just did not feel right, and when she followed up with her doctors in March, they told her the cancer had spread to her liver and bones and she received the news that she had anywhere from three months to two years to live.”
James said the news was devastating for the family, but her mom was concerned with the timeframe she had been given for a very specific reason.
“All she kept telling them was that they had to keep her here until August 4 because that is when her granddaughter would be arriving into this world,” she said.
James said her mom was too sick to attend the 2009 Relay For Life, but she continued to fight.
In May of 2009, James said she decided to try an experimental drug for the cancer in her liver. Yocom entered the hospital on May 17, 2009, but even with the treatments, she ended up leaving M.D. Anderson by air ambulance on June 22, 2009, and flew into Russellville where she planned to spend the rest of her time at her home near her family.
“I entered the hospital on July 28 and gave birth to Chloe Rayne at 7:06 p.m.,” James said.
“I called my mom as soon as she arrived so that she could hear the first cries from her hospital bed at home. My wonderful doctor allowed me to check out the next day so that mom could see what she had been fighting so hard for.”
James said her mother was able to hold and kiss her granddaughter – something she had desperately wanted to do – before she ultimately lost her battle with cancer on August 1, 2009, at her home surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, mother, brother, sister, nieces and others.
“Mom’s funeral was held on August 4, 2009, which was Chloe’s original due date,” James said.
“During the last 36 hours of her life, all of her family was at her home and by her side and there were lots of tears and goodbyes, but mother never cried.
“Mom was a strong Christian woman so it is comforting to know that she is in heaven where there is no cancer and she is no longer suffering, but losing her was still hard.
“During those last days, she was quick to tell her me and her grandson, Dylan, to ‘straighten up’ and her order to my cousin Tammie was ‘Girl, you gotta get it together.’”
After her mother passed, James said she decided to attend the Franklin County Relay For Life kick-off in January 2010.
“I sat and cried knowing that mom would have wanted us to do something to help with this dreaded disease and I decided that night that even if I had to be a one-woman team, I was going to do it for her,” James said. “So our family had our first team at the 2010 Relay For Life and we called ourselves ‘Gettin’ it 2gether for GLADYS’ because that’s what my mom wanted us to do – get it together.”
Since forming a successful Relay team that has raised money to help in the fight against cancer, James has also served on the Franklin County Relay For Life Committee since 2011 and said she was so thankful for her experience with Relay For Life.
“I have met some wonderful people and created friendships that I will never forget,” she said. “What happens behind the scenes with the preparation for the event is amazing and I am privileged to be a part of the committee and this great event in Franklin County each year.
“Together, we have the power to help create a world where cancer can no longer claim another year of anyone’s life.”
James said she also enjoys the event itself because it’s such a great, family-friendly atmosphere.
“Events go on all night and most people don’t realize that,” she said. “The music is amazing and the friendships are great. It’s the one time of the year that the county as a whole can come out and have a great time supporting a great event.”
But James said that even though the event it a lot of fun for everyone who comes, the great things is being able to support the survivors.
“If for no other reason, people should take the time to come out to support the amazing survivors who have seen this deadly disease head on and survived it,” she said. “And for the ones that are currently battling, they need all the support they can get during this trying time.”
This year’s Franklin County Relay For Life will be held Friday, May 3, at the Russellville High School Stadium with opening ceremonies kicking off at 7 p.m.
For more information about how to be actively involved in Relay For Life, contact local ACS community representative Megan Lovelace at 256-767-0825 or by e-mail at