‘We are fighting a mighty battle’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 21, 2001

&uot;We’re not victims, we’re survivors.&uot;

Evelyn Smith repeated the words again, almost to herself, as if she gained strength just by saying them.

And if one word describes Smith and the local group of women who have battled or are battling breast cancer, it would be strength.

They call themselves God’s Angelic Warriors. &uot;Because we are fighting a mighty battle,&uot; said founding member and survivor Demetria Reed. &uot;We put on the full armor of God everyday.&uot;

Reed said the support group began three years ago as a New Year’s resolution between herself and Smith. Both educators at Morgantown Elementary at the time, the women also shared a common disease – breast cancer.

In sharing their stories with one another, the two women soon felt called to help others in the same way, especially Smith, who believed herself to be alone when diagnosed in 1987.

&uot;When I went through it, I didn’t have somebody sitting next to me, except in the doctor’s office,&uot; she said.

&uot;I knew at that point if God gave me the chance, I would always be there for others.&uot;

From the first meetings at the office of Reed’s physician husband, the group steadily grew. Diagnosed in 1994, Sarah Cameron joined when she learned of Smith’s battle.

Cameron said she quickly realized the group was not only a chance to learn about cancer, but to fellowship with others and &uot;get the whole picture of what cancer was.&uot;

Reed said the same. &uot;We are a support group, but we also support each other spiritually and emotionally.&uot;

Much of that personal support stems from the shared experiences, those that &uot;unless you’ve been there, you don’t know about,&uot; said Lynn Sturgeon McLeod.

As a single mother of a teenage daughter, McLeod said she found it difficult to talk about her struggle with cancer with anyone, even her parents. &uot;I guess I wanted to make them believe I was strong. I really don’t know,&uot; she said.

But after listening to others’ stories – many of them identical to her own, some of them even more heart-wrenching – McLeod said her problems suddenly seemed small.

&uot;It gave me an outlet to discuss with people who knew exactly what I was talking about,&uot; she said.

&uot;I had all my books at home to read on cancer, but what really meant the most to me was that they were there on a personal level.&uot;

Myrtis Clayton said she was at first hesitant to share her story with others, but the support of her fellow group members has helped her change her outlook.

&uot;Maybe it will help somebody else who has had breast cancer,&uot; she said.

Reed said many people feel uncomfortable sharing their story, and some have a problem even accepting they have cancer.

As she learned early on in her diagnosis, Smith said cancer is a subject people in the community, whether they have cancer or not, don’t like talking about.

That needs to change, she said. &uot;It’s OK. It’s not a disease we gave ourselves it’s okay to talk about it.&uot;

And one way to raise awareness about cancer locally, while raising money for research at the same time, is the Miss-Lou Relay for Life. God’s Angelic Warriors is one of several teams signed up for the all-night event, scheduled for May 4 at the Vidalia Landing.

&uot;Each year we raise more and more money as the community becomes aware of the need,&uot; Smith said. Proceeds from the relay benefit the American Cancer Society.

Cameron said the event is not only an opportunity to raise money for continued research, serves as an &uot;awakening&uot; to the public about cancer.

&uot;It’s very moving to be out there with people who are in the same shoes as me,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s invigorating to be part of that environment and enthusiasm.&uot;

But the relay and even the support group are not enough to beat cancer, Smith said. She encourages women to have a regular mammogram in addition to their normal checkups.

&uot;Because early detection is the key to being a survivor,&uot; she said.