Relay for Life hosts Party at the Park to celebrate, remember & fight back

Relay for Life hosted Party at the Park at Depot Park in Cullman Saturday. (Sammy Confer/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Depot Park was packed Saturday afternoon with locals coming out to show their support for cancer survivors, to remember the ones we’ve lost and to help those still fighting at Relay for Life’s Party in the Park.

The day got started with an opening ceremony from Emcee Rebekah Cash, then the color guard from the Cullman Area Technology Academy came out. After the National Anthem, Matt Smith from East Side Baptist Church led everyone in prayer. A special guest speaker was in town at the event, WVTM 13 co-host, Rick Karle.

Karle talked to the crowd about his battle with cancer and what we should all learn.

“In 1987, I’m a hotshot sports anchor in Jacksonville, Florida.” Karle said. “I’m at the CBS station. I’m covering the Gators in the NCAA tournament. I’m at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse and I just didn’t feel well. I went home and I talked to my doctor. He said, ‘Well, you probably just got the crud. Don’t worry about it. He gave me some penicillin and told me to call him in the morning. I continued to feel bad, and I went back to him. He discovered that I had testicular cancer. The good news is, for the most part, it’s pretty treatable. This is why I’m lucky. I went in, 29 years old, and underwent surgery the next day. He put me on radiation and very strong chemotherapy. I lost my hair, lost about 20 pounds. I thought the chemotherapy was going to kill me and not the cancer. Here’s why I was lucky and here’s a lesson that we should all learn from all of this.”

He added, “I walked into his office, and he told me, ‘The good news is, we’re giving you a 90% chance to survive. I take that in a heartbeat. I was a good patient, went through all of the radiation and the chemo. I got better. He said, ‘Take a good luck at this.’ This is how far cancer development has come. If you were sick 10 years prior in 1977, you’ve have had a 30% chance to survive. If you were sick in 1967, you’ve would have had a 10% chance. The moral of the story is while many of us have lost loved ones, many of us have been sick and have been lucky enough to survive, I think, as we look down the road, there’s some promise there. As we continue to battle with this and researchers get more money from the cancer society to people worldwide, I think we’re going to beat this. I got lucky with timing, and I think if we all stay positive and continue to support the cancer society, continue to support funding, research, and development, I think we can beat this. I really do.”

Peyton Pate then went on stage and performed from 4-5 p.m., then came the survivor dinner from 5-6 at the Desperation Church College Campus. The survivor lap started at 6 p.m., then at 6:30 p.m., the caregiver lap began. The cancer teams then did their lap at 6:45 p.m. Trifecta took the stage at 7 p.m. and got done performing at 8:30 p.m. The Luminaria Service started at 9 p.m. and it ended at 10 p.m.

Deanna Leavitt, who is now a three-year breast cancer survivor, shared her story and how much she had to overcome.

“It was a long road,” Leavitt said.” I work at the Wal-Mart on 157 and there were days, I worked most of the time, and there were days that I could barely even walk. They were so good to me. They made me sit and answer the phone because I was trying to do my job. They were very, very good to me and my doctor even said that I had a lot more side effects than most people. But, even with all of my support and everything, I’ve been in remission for three years. It’s just been a blessing. I couldn’t walk at the time and every day, when I go in that store, I think of how blessed I am that I can walk all over the place now. I couldn’t even walk a few feet without having to sit down.”

Deanna’s reaction to learning that she was cancer-free was not surprising at all and she gave those people that are going through what she had to go through some advice. 

“I was excited.” Leavitt said. “We went out and celebrated. They had a party for me at work. It was great. I was so excited and just feeling blessed. God is good. My advice to those people would be you have to have hope. Just know that a better day is coming because it is. You just keep pushing and there’s a better day coming. You’ll make it. You just have to stick with it and be strong.”

Robert Motter, a four-year survivor of bladder cancer, talked about what he’s had to overcome during his cancer battle and his reaction to being cancer-free.

“I was diagnosed initially with a urinary tract infection,” Motter said. “A couple of months later, I was urinating really bright red blood and I had a greater than five-centimeter tumor in my bladder. They removed it and later on, they removed the second small part. They got the rest of it. My reaction to being cancer-free was amazement and I was glad. My wife cried. I was very happy. We got very lucky that it was caught early and remissed quickly without any chemo. It was all surgically done.”

His wife, Carol, stood by his side during those hard times and never gave up hope.

“My reaction was seeing absolute total fear in my husband’s eyes and knowing I had no control. I can’t fix this.” she said. ” All I can do is stand by his side and love him. That’s what I did.”

Robert gave some advice to those people who are battling through cancer. 

“Just stay strong. Be positive and don’t ever give up. It can be beaten.” he said. 

The event raised between $700 and $750.

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