Thursday evening, April 14, the Madison County’s Relay For Life organization held their annual Survivor Dinner, to honor and celebrate those people in Madison whose lives have been touched by cancer. The room held more than its share of survivors, but also caregivers, made up of family and friends, who were recognized for their support of the survivors.
The Survivor Dinner was held in the Student Center at North Florida Community College. Approximately 65 guests were served a wonderful meal consisting of baked chicken, fried chicken, pork, meat balls, spaghetti, green beans, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, yellow rice, rolls, salad, cheese and crackers, a vegetable plate, a fruit plate, drinks and several deserts. The meal was sponsored by Made To Order Catering, O’Neal’s Country Buffet, Norris Café, Spoonful of Heaven, Madison Coffee Company, Food Giant and the NFCC Sentinel Café.
The evening began with each guest registering at the registration table, which was manned by Big Bend Hospice employees Michele Brantly and Phyllis Williams. Before and during dinner, music was provided by Jay Hicks.
Following the delicious meal, Al Bivens, III shared his story of cancer, taking guests on his journey of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, from diagnosis to today’s healing. His words were encouraging and the crowd was attentive as he spoke to survivors and caregivers about his faith and expectation of healing.
In October 2012, Bivens was just 20 years old. He had acquired a terrible cough and “lumps” had appeared on his neck. His parents took him to the doctor fearing he had the flu. What was discovered was far worse.
Bivens stated that as soon as the doctors saw the lumps on his neck, they sent him straight to have tests done. The test results confirmed their fears; he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He relayed the pure devastation he felt at the fact of finding out he had cancer, especially at the age of 20.
He began treatments. However, his next PET Scan showed no results and no deterioration of the cancer cells. As a result, he was moved to a different type of chemotherapy treatment.
Several months later he underwent another PET scan. This time the results were worse; his cancer cells had spread and he was moved to Stage 4 cancer. The doctors then decided to stop all treatments for a month.
The next time Bivens went to see the doctors they informed him that there was a new drug on the market that they were going to try to get him approved to take. Once approved, he began taking this new treatment one time every two weeks for an hour at a time.
In October 2015, three years after Bivens had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he underwent another PET Scan. The results came back showing all cancer cells were gone. After three years of battling this ferocious disease, Bivens was declared cancer free!
Bivens recently underwent a bone marrow transplant just two months ago. This surgery was done under the doctors’ suggestion to make sure his body’s damaged and/or destroyed bone marrow was replaced with healthy bone marrow stem cells.
At the young age of 23, Bivens stood before the Relay For Life crowd and told of his battle with cancer and acknowledged his need for the support of family, friends and God and how important they were to his recovery.
After a standing ovation for Bivens, the banquet began to come to an end. But, at any event, the highlight is always the door prize segment. Two door prizes were awarded to attending cancer survivors. Minnie Lee Newborn and Lola McGhee both won gift certificates to Norris Café.
All Madison County citizens are invited to come out and support Relay For Life on Friday, April 29, from 6 p.m. midnight at the Madison County High School football field.
All cancer survivors are invited to walk the first lap of the night, during the “Survivor’s Lap.”