Relay for Life of Watauga County has been actively fundraising for the American Cancer Society’s cancer research for 25 years, and on May 22, the relay honored area cancer survivors during its 25th annual Survivors Dinner at Greenway Baptist Church.

Approximately 180 people attended the dinner, said Watauga Relay for Life Chair Brian Barker. Almost all of those attendees raised their hands to acknowledge that they had survived cancer.

The dinner has been held at Greenway Baptist Church and catered by Outback Steakhouse in Blowing Rock for the past 17 years. Barker and past relay Chairs Glenda Hodges and Sharon Sweeting awarded Outback Steakhouse managing partner Anthony Bowling and Greenway Baptist Senior Pastor Darrell Hobbs and wife Pam Hobbs with the Sue and Hugh Tilson Award for Exceptional Service.

“We would have not been able to have this Survivors Dinner without the contributions of these two organizations,” Barker said.

Following the award presentation, 20-year cancer survivor Karen Hastings shared her experience of living with cancer. Hastings was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in the late ‘90s. She had colon surgery, then began her six months of chemotherapy approximately one year later at the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center at Watauga Medical Center, where she had been on the hospital board for 10 years.

“When cancer hits you, it hits you with a bang,” Hastings said.

After being told her cancer was fully contained and that she’d be OK, Hastings’ doctor told her something that she didn’t expect: her cancer had spread to her liver.

“That’s a big blow,” Hastings said. “I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’m probably going to die. I’m probably not going to be here long.’ And when you’re diagnosed with stage four cancer, it’s pretty scary. I was really pretty scared. I’m a strong believer and I pray; the Lord and I had lots of talks and we had lots of battles sometimes too.”

Hastings eventually got in contact with a doctor at Duke Cancer Center, where she underwent liver surgeries. Summer of 1999 marked her end of treatments and confirmed that her cancer was gone.

“You pray and you read and you hope,” Hastings said. “You just have hope. And I had hope.”

Now, Hastings is taking care of husband Jim, who was diagnosed with colon cancer recently. She’ll be taking Jim to see the doctor in a couple weeks, Hastings said. Hastings has been holding firmly to her faith, as she did during her own treatments.

“Just pray for him,” Hastings said. “We’ll get through it.”

To close out the night, Barker led the crowd in lighting candles to honor cancer patients, acknowledge those who have died in their battles with cancer and celebrate the survivors in the room.

“Tonight we celebrate you,” Barker said to the crowd. “You inspire us and you motivate us. You truly are the reason we relay.”

The Watauga Relay for Life will be held at Watauga High School at 6 p.m. on June 14. The relay will include a survivor lap, lighting the luminaria, live music, activities for children and more.

Watauga Relay for Life has raised more than $4.5 million over the course of 25 years and has hosted more than 250 teams. To donate, join a team or for more information, visit main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY19SER?pg=entry&fr_id=92708.

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