Thousands are participating in Laurinburg’s Relay for Life event this year to unite against a common enemy - cancer.
In knowing that enemy all too well, some of them have an advantage, having already fought and won a battle with cancer. Some 600 cancer survivors took to the Pate Stadium track on Friday night following the opening ceremonies of the 16th annual Relay for Life of Scotland County, beginning Relay with a lap for survivors to share their victory over the disease.
Colin McArthur, known in Scotland County as the proprietor of General McArthur’s restaurant, spoke about his battle with cancer during the event’s opening ceremony on Friday night. McArthur has been a survivor of prostate cancer since 2003.
Originally in denial about his diagnosis, a session of prayer with a group of Scotia Village residents that McArthur regularly visited gave him confidence that he could survive the hand he had been dealt.
“Those six ladies put their hands on me and they prayed for me, and I’ll tell you what, when I got out of there and I started walking out, I knew there was no way I was going to have any problems,” he said.
McArthur’s brush with the deadly disease gave him a renewed appreciation for his life and the simple things that many take for granted.
“You go through the big “c” word, and it changes your life,” said McArthur. “All of a sudden you realize how beautiful a day like today is. All of a sudden, you realize the birds, everything changes and your life slows down.”
Despite cancer’s devastating effects, McArthur learned lessons from his ordeal that he still holds dear.
“I never realized how many people cared about me,” McArthur said. “I had total strangers come and see me in the restaurant to ask ‘Where’s the General at?’ I would get cards from Cheraw, High Point; I was getting mail from everywhere. That’s love. If I didn’t learn anything from cancer, and I don’t want anybody to have it, but the experience I went through and what I learned about life and how to live life - it’s too short. We all need to take time and learn how to love each other.”
For another survivor, victory over cancer was particularly bittersweet. Longtime Scotland County resident Sylvia Witmore, retired from a career in health care and now an author of suspense novels, spoke prior to Friday night’s luminary ceremony about her battle with cancer.
“I’m a writer; I love all kinds of books: true stories, bestselling novels, and of course the Bible,” Witmore said. “I grew up knowing that having real love in your life was better than having great riches.”
After Witmore was diagnosed with a mesenteric tumor in her stomach in February 2009, little was certain but the strength and support of her husband, C.L. Witmore.
“One of the doctors has it down as a malignant stomach tumor and another has it down as ovarian cancer - they can’t pinpoint exactly where it started,” Witmore said.
Following an extensive surgery, Witmore underwent chemotherapy to combat residual cancer cells.
“I had surgery and had everything taken out that can possibly be removed, that you can live without,” Witmore said. “I had chemo to take care of the residual spots around my abdomen where the tumor had touched. My husband was with me every step of the way through all 80 hours of chemo.”
In September 2009 Witmore found out that her cancer was officially in remission, but her joy was short-lived, as C.L. died the next day from the sudden rupture of an undetected aneurysm.
“We were going to travel, we were going to go out to Texas and visit our son out there when the chemo was over,” Witmore said. “He had already mapped out a trip on the atlas.”
Since 2009, Witmore has published eight novels and written one book chronicling her experiences in 2009, moving into the future that survival of cancer has granted her.
“There is a future with cancer, and I want them to look around and look at the survivors there at Relay for Life and see that with cancer, there is always hope, hope that the children of our future will not have to go through the same ordeal that the cancer survivors had to face,” she said.
Witmore expressed gratitude to all of those who supported her during her battle with cancer, both family members and her health care team.
“Having cancer is a life-altering experience, but I had help through the darkest times,” said Witmore. “I want everyone to realize how wonderful our cancer center here is in Laurinburg and how lucky the people in Scotland County are that we have such a place to go to.”
Witmore and fellow cancer survivors were remembered along with those who were not so fortunate during a luminary ceremony held after her speech.