Editor’s Note: In the weeks leading up to the Yadkin Relay for Life event on May 9, the Yadkin Ripple will share several stories of the everyday heroes who have battled cancer and support fundraising efforts in the fight against cancer through this annual event of the American Cancer Society.
Becky Wood is no stranger to cancer, though she hasn’t personally battled the disease, she is a different type of “survivor.” She is a caretaker.
Wood’s mother, Barbara Newman, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer two years ago. Wood has had the important job of being by her mother’s side as she went through surgery, chemo and the other painful and debilitating procedures that cancer patients must face in order to survive.
Wood said that being a caretaker for a loved one battling cancer is “the hardest job in America” but those faced with this task “should try to take it on with a good smile.”
Wood has donated to Relay for Life for many years. She was 16 when she first heard of cancer when her aunt was diagnosed with it. She also had several uncles who battled cancer as well. Wood and her family took on an even larger role in Relay two years ago when not only her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, but also her sister-in-law, Lana Brendle.
While still operating her bake shop with the help of her son, Ryan, Wood not only served as a caretaker for her mother, but she also did all she could for her sister-in-law, whose cancer was stage four when discovered.
Wood is a huge proponent of early detection and said that she makes sure to schedule mammograms yearly and to do frequent self-breast exams. She lost her own sister to a car accident and said that while accidents can’t always be prevented, being proactive when it comes to health concerns is one thing everyone can do.
“Early detection, that’s the biggest thing,” Wood said.
Watching her sister in-law battle breast cancer made a huge impact on her own life, Wood explained.
“She was a lot of inspiration to me, thinking that this woman had stage four breast cancer at the same my mother was trying to deal with it, and to see how these women were so strong,” she said. “Having a cold is nothing compared to what these two women were going through. And going to the cancer place and seeing some of these small children having chemo, you just go, ‘I’m fine,’ there’s nothing wrong with me that I can’t deal with.”
For Wood, Relay for Life is all about supporting the survivors of cancer. While she herself has faced challenges being a caretaker for her loved ones, she brushes that off quickly and said, “It’s just all about the survivors.” She has served for the past two years on the Relay committee that hosts the annual Survivor Dinner. She said last year’s dinner was a great success.
“We had over 200 people there. We had to use every table and chair that was in the Moose Lodge and I’m hoping we’ll do the same this year.”
This year’s Survivor Dinner will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Moose Lodge in Yadkinville.
“We invite all cancer survivors to come,” Wood said. “As committee members, we serve the survivors. I’ve been catering three-fourths of my life, so to me, to cater to somebody that has gone through what I’ve seen my mother and my sister in-law and some of these kids go through, and they’re sitting there smiling at you and saying thank you and you know they have beat what they’ve beat, it just tickles me to death.”
Wood also said that her grandchildren are a large part of her motivation to support fundraising efforts for cancer research through Relay for Life.
“I have five grandchildren, all girls, and that’s another reason I do Relay, because I don’t want any of those five girls and my daughter to ever have to go through what I went through with my mom and my sister-in-law,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine any of those five little girls going through this, but if they do, I want them to go with an attitude like my mother and my sister-in-law; get up, go to work, be happy and put a smile on your face.”
Through it all, Wood has worked hard to keep a smile on her face and keep cheering on her family members who have battled cancer.
“A caretaker has to get up every morning and not think of themselves, think of the person you’re going to go take care of and do whatever you can to make their day the happiest day no matter what because the next day they may not be there. You want to make sure every day is better and better,” Wood said. “I was scared to death sometimes but I would come home and relax and say, ‘we’ve made it another day.’ We’re going to keep fighting this.”
Wood said her most difficult moment came during a Relay event the year her sister in-law passed away.
“When my mother was walking the survivors lap I was tickled to death for her and clapping, but when she walked away I started crying because I knew my sister-in-law would never be able to walk that lap,” she said. “That was the hardest day I’ve had dealing with cancer.”
Brendle died exactly one week after Relay for Life, but her spirit lives on for Wood who cherishes the memory of her sister-in-law as she continues to celebrate her own mother’s survival.
Wood’s Relay for Life team is small but they do what they can to raise funds by selling tickets for special prizes and serving at the Yadkin County baseball league concession stand, which donates proceeds to Relay.
“It’s fun for us and we get to get out of the house,” she said. “We still feel like we’re doing something for the community.”
This year’s Relay theme is sports and Wood said their campsite at the event, which will be held at Forbush High School on May 9, will be the brightest tent at the event.
“I’m going away from all the Carolina people,” Wood said with a laugh. “I’m going Tennessee all the way. My father and I were both from Tennessee and we decided we’re going to brighten up this place and we’re gonna go with Tennessee orange all the way.”
Her bright orange Tennessee decorations will not only reflect the Volunteer spirit that is the school’s mascot, but her own willingness to put others first in her caregiver’s fight against cancer.
For more information on the Yadkin Relay for Life, visit www.relayforlife.org/yadkinnc.
Kitsey E. Burns can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.