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Posted: April 28, 2011 7:19 p.m.

Relay for Life starts Friday

By Tharon Giddens/

Still surviving: Becky Byrum has participated in Relay for Life events for years after surviving a bout with lung cancer.

Becky Byrum has been walking laps in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fundraiser for years, now, but tonight she'll be taking her second Survivor's Lap.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2009, and somehow managed to find the energy to participate in the 2010 Relay, even though radiation therapy had left her esophagus so burned that she was able to drink, but couldn't eat.
Tonight, she'll enjoy a brownie at the event.

Byrum is the namesake for Team Becky, a group of friends and family who will be representing Marksville in the event, which will be held at the Church at Covington, 11975 Ga. Highway 142.

She'll take the Survivor's Lap with her husband, Steve, grandchildren Ace and Avery and her daughter Kelly.
Byrum was lucky to receive her diagnosis. She had flu and couldn't get better, leading doctors to do more testing. An X-ray found an unusual spot. A needle biopsy showed that the spot on her lung was indeed cancerous.

Lung cancer is insidious. It's hard to diagnose and the survivor rate is unchanged in 40 years. Just 17 percent of people with lung cancer survive five years, the point at which cancer is assumed to be in remission.
Like Byrum, 60 percent of lung cancer victims are non-smokers.

She didn't cry when she received her diagnosis: She had heard so many amazing stories from cancer survivors through her work with Relay for Life that she was expecting the best for herself.

"I knew there were 25-year survivors out there," she said. "Because I had been doing relay, because I had held that microphone, I was OK."

She was a Stage III patient. The upper lobe of her right lung was removed, as were some lymph nodes, and she underwent six weeks of radiation treatment and seven weeks of chemotherapy.

Today, Byrum is doing well: Three scans have shown no evidence of the disease's return.

Her support system of family and friends living locally is extensive, befitting of someone whose roots in the rolling hills and pastures of southeast Newton County near Mansfield reach back to the mid-19th century.

She had worked a decade as an organizer for the event before her diagnosis. Her inspiration was the child of a neighbor, who was a toddler when he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

She did what she could to support the family, visiting with the child at Eggleston's Children's Hospital and thinking there must be more she could do to help others.

Her church became involved in the Relay and Byrum was soon serving as an officer in the effort.

"God put it there when I needed to put my hand on it. I've never looked back," she said.

As Byrum noted, it seems cancer touches everyone.

In her family, her husband was more vigilant after her diagnosis and was found to have skin cancer. A niece was diagnosed with breast cancer and her sister Cathy has been diagnosed with brain cancer.
Cathy has gone through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but has promised to a lap with her sibling.

"I'm going to hold her to it," Byrum said.

Last year, Byrum's team was the top fundraiser for the local event, raising some $18,000, with much of the proceeds stemming from sales of barbecue plates.

She is a passionate advocate for the cancer society. She notes that donations through Relay for Life help fund research which has resulted in the development of screening procedures such as mammograms and also helps cancers survivors locally. She suggested that you can buy a luminary in honor of a loved one, or just stop in to buy some supper for the family tonight.

She also notes that a down economy has had an impact on donations, but that the need for American Cancer Society services remains.

"Cancer doesn't go away because the economy is bad," she said. "Every dollar makes us closer to a cure, so if you can give us just a dollar, that's OK."

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