Relay for Life unites hope, awareness, support and honor

The Sussex County Crusaders were among 25 teams that participated in the 2019 Relay for Life of Sussex County held Saturday at Sussex Central High School. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Nor does it play favorites.

These days, it is virtually impossible to find someone in Sussex County or on Delmarva whose life has not been impacted by the disease, directly or indirectly, through personal experience, family, friends, workplace, church or community.

Relay for Life of Sussex County is a strength-in-numbers, unified effort of hope, awareness, support and honor.

“Relay to me is coming together as a community to raise awareness, support those battling cancer, to celebrate those that have survived the fight and honor those that have lost that battle,” said Vicky Pachuta, chairwoman for the Sussex County event held Saturday. “Together we can make a difference.”

Twenty-five teams participated in the eight-hour Relay for Life held at Sussex Central High School’s outdoor stadium.

Cancer survivor Doug Hudson shares his victorious battle with cancer at Relay for Life of Sussex County Saturday. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Among the teams, the Sussex County Crusaders, comprised of county employees past and present. This was the Crusaders’ second Relay for Life. In the hearts of many was Melody Booker-Wilkins, the county’s economic development director who passed away in September 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer.

“Melody … I was pretty close to her and she passed away,” said Crusaders member Kelly Collins. “So, we decided to form this team to walk — just to bring awareness. And there have been other county employees that has passed from cancer.”

Those who have beaten or are winning the battle against cancer took part in the ceremonial Survivors Lap, joined by their caregivers and Relay sponsors.

“And we have a couple survivors,” said Crusaders team leader Christine Fletcher.

The monetary goal for the 2019 Sussex Relay for Life was $150,000, set at the kickoff event held back in mid-February. Last year’s Relay for Life of Sussex County raised $98,000, which supports many services the American Cancer Society offers to cancer patients, survivors, their families and caregivers.

Some funding also supports research.

Doug Hudson of Dagsboro is living proof of the miracles of research. The retired Delaware state trooper and current Sussex County councilman shared his story during opening ceremonies.

About 6 ½ years ago Mr. Hudson was diagnosed with lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. It was a pretty rough few months.

“I had never smoked. I was always in real good shape — retired state trooper. It was devastating to say the least. One of the first doctors I spoke with when he first told me my diagnosis, he said, ‘You need to get your affairs in order,’” said Mr. Hudson.

That was “unacceptable” to Mr. Hudson.

“A couple weeks later I went back for another follow-up at the hospital, and I see this guy going down the hallway,” said Mr. Hudson. “He was one of my doctors that I had seen. He shouts across the hallway, ‘Mr. Hudson, guess what? You just tested positive for ALK.’ I’m like, ‘God, what now?’ He said ‘No, you just hit the lottery.’”

“Through research and gene study they isolated a gene mutation that I had that very few people have. and they discovered a drug for it. Through the money that is donated, the research can be done, so genes can be isolated, and they find specific mutation,” he said. “They make medicine for it. It’s very expensive,” said Mr. Hudson. “I have been on it for six years. I got back to the hospital every three months. And I am very, very lucky.”

“With the support, my wife, our son and great docs and our faith, we hit a home run,” said Mr. Hudson. “Through the research, from the money that is made here and several other places, I was very fortunate.”

Mr. Hudson admits dealing with cancer is extremely difficult.

“It is very hard to stay positive. It’s a battle for your life. You go through some very emotional times, some down times. There are not many hours of the day that you don’t think about cancer,” said Mr. Hudson, who on a side-note 20 years ago donated one of his kidneys to his wife’s father. “I truly believe that if you fold up your tent you will die. You have to fight. And I’m not going to quit fighting.”

Beebe Healthcare was the Presenting Sponsor. Dr. Judith Ramirez of Beebe said Beebe Healthcare is proud to sponsor and collaborate with Relay for Life, noting the support for Beebe’s Tunnell Cancer Center and the future South Coastal Cancer Center.

“We couldn’t do what we do for our patients without them. Research is key to treatment,” said Dr. Ramirez. “ACS pours a lot of funding to that. A huge thank you to their support.”

This year’s event stirred a remembrance for Robert Karpin, who passed away from cancer.

“One of our committee members passed away at the end of last year, Robert Karpin. It’s in memory of him,” said Ms. Pachuta. “It’s the first time we have had it affect our committee. So, that was a big hit for us last year.”

“Rob and his family were a very important part of Relay throughout the years. At our last event, Rob spoke and told everyone his story,” said Ms. Pachuta. “Rob stated that he was spending his last days doing Relay so that someone would live to see a cure that he would never see. That is the unselfish, involving man that he was. He was collecting donations on his last day.”

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