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Posted: April 25, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Cancer patients, survivors walk for cure at Relay

Brittany Thomas/

Air Force Capt. Scott Byrum returned home from the Middle East last November. Steve and Becky Byrum were thrilled that their son had come back unscathed from this third tour of duty. But as too often happens, an insidious disease reared its ugly head and turned joy into devastation — Becky was diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I don’t know, but I’ve been told, cancer is a real tough road.

Doctors, chemo, meds to take, we’re fightin’ back for all your sake.”

Steve shouts out a cheer he had created earlier Friday. Next to him, around 50 camouflage-shirt clad family members show their support.

They are Team Becky, and they were one of the around 70 groups that marched in Friday’s Relay for Life event at the Church at Covington.

Becky had the upper lobe of her right lung removed, where the tumor resided, soon after detection. However, the most deadly of all cancers had already spread to her lymph nodes. She recently underwent her 23rd chemotherapy treatment. Ironically, Becky didn’t have far to turn, because she had been a staunch supporter of the Newton County chapter of Relay for Life for more than 11 years.

“We’re hopefully. We’re hanging on to hope that someday they can come up with a cure,” said Steve.

“One, two, three, for we are … Team Becky!”

While those like Becky are still battling cancer, more than 350 local residents are registered cancer survivors. And they span the range.

Covington-born Leigh Jay has been cancer free for less than a month. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in August. Six chemo treatments later she appears to be doing OK, and she still has some of her hair.

The chemo was actually more damaging than the cancer. Her immune system was impaired so much she caught pneumonia in both lungs. The 74-year-old long-time member of First Baptist Church has lost 30 pounds, but she recently went bowling for the first time — she bowled a 128. Jay said the key is to pay attention to your body. She got checked out because she had intense pain in her stomach.

"It was shocking (when I first found out), but I’ve got a marvelous doctor. It’s treatable and curable if it’s caught early," she said.

While Margie Allen isn’t much older than Jay, at age 79, she’s been in remission for 30 years from ovarian cancer. Her family had been plagued by lethal forms cancer, which made her own discovery more frightening.

"It was scary, because my mom had died six months before. My dad had died of lung cancer years before. I had three brothers who all died of cancer," Allen said.

But she turned the tables on cancer, and stopped dead in its tracks. She had surgery to remove the tumor and she’s been thriving ever since. Her two children, Kay Marks and Jimmy Smith are both cancer free.

"I found it through a regular check-up. The Lord has blessed me so much," said the Porterdale resident. "Early and regular check-ups are the key."

Stories like Allen’s serve as a beacon of hope for all those families struggling with cancer, like the 1,000 official participants and many of the more than 3,000 attendees of Friday’s Relay for Life.

Brian Burgoyne, chairperson of the local chapter of Relay for Life, gave the opening ceremony speech and he emphasized this year’s theme: celebrating birthdays.

"I want to thank everyone for helping to put an end to cancer and helping celebrate more birthdays," he said. "I hope one day no one in Newton County will ever have to hear those dreadful words ‘You have cancer.’"

To see more photos, click on the link under Related Content.

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