The rawest moment of Jackson County resident Beth Baldwin’s life was being there when her mother, Becky Keller, took her last breath.
Watching her mother through the progression of terminal cancer was heartbreaking, but Baldwin came away from the experience with more respect and appreciation for the gift of life. Baldwin learned there is no greater honor than to care for the one who cared for you first.
“I think those words certainly prove to be true,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade one single moment or long exhausting day for anything in the world.”
Baldwin was the keynote speaker for the 2018 Jackson County Relay for Life, which was conducted Friday, June 9, on the lawn of the Jackson County Courthouse.
Two hundred people registered to participate in order to honor the memory of those who lost their battle with cancer, and to support those who have survived, as well as to raise funds for cancer research. The event featured live music, vendors and a luminaria ceremony, in addition to the tradition of walking laps to raise money for a cure.
Twenty-four-year survivor and Constellium retiree Bill Williams was this year’s marshal. He said he’s been participating in Relay for Life for at least 20 years. Relay provides a lot of support to survivors, including giving them someone to talk to who understands what they’re going through.
“Everybody needs to be able to talk about it,” Williams said.
Surviving cancer isn’t something a person should have to do alone.
“Cancer’s not a death sentence. You can survive it,” he said. “Just don’t give up. You can sit back and ask why me, but then you have to ask why not me.”
Hannah Faber is a 20-year-old student at West Virginia University at Parkersburg and a member of the WVUP Relay team. She said she participates in Relay to honor family members who have survived cancer, including her grandmother Lois Edwards, who survived breast cancer, but died of a heart condition last year.
“One thing she wished was to to live long enough to see me grow up,” Faber said. “And she did.”
Lori McKee works in production at Constellium and is a member of the company’s Relay team. She said she has at least 10 family members who have been affected by cancer. She said she is proud to work at a company that supports causes like Relay for Life.
“We do it every year and we love it,” she said. “It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.”
Sarah McVay-Freeland is a co-lead of the Jackson County Relay for Life. She said one in four people are affected by cancer. Many people believe funds raised at Relay are not used locally, and while some funds do go to cancer research at the national level, another portion of the funding is used locally, she said.
“We raise funds every year for local state and national support, whether it is for local people who need a ride to the doctor or a new wig because of hair loss, or cancer research at the national level,” she said.
Holley Durham is a representative of the American Cancer Society and community development manager. She said the ACS’ main focus this year is raising awareness of the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent six different types of cancer later in life.
“It is safe for your 10 or 11 year old to go and get,” she said.
McVay-Freeland said she was moved to see so many people show up to support the cause.
“It’s always emotional to see the turnout. With the changes in our society, it’s sometimes hard to get people to invest their time and money,” she said.
Caregiver Jeremy Rhodes led the luminaria ceremony.
“It is a time for us to grieve for those we’ve lost. It is a time for us to reflect on how the diseas has touched each of us personally, and it is a time for us to look inside ourselves with quiet reflection and find hope,” he said. “Because no matter what our experience with cancer has been, we all share the hope that we will one day live in a world where our children and their children will not have to know about the pain and suffering caused by cancer.”
That’s a world Baldwin wants to help build, too. A lifelong resident of Jackson County, Baldwin is the West Virginia marketing representative for Celina Insurance Group. She and her husband Scott have two children and live on a farm in Given.
Baldwin has previously taken part in Relay through the jackson County 4-H and at West Virginia University for the WVU American Society of Safety Engineers.
Baldwin’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 and passed away in October. She was known as the center of her family, organizing family outings and cooking Sunday suppers.
“By the time I accepted her terminal diagnosis, you might as well have told me that the world was going to end. The woman who was the core of my being would no longer be my go-to Google. We would no longer be able to partake in her amazing Sunday cooking and I couldn’t stand the thought that she would not be here to watch her grand babies grow,” Baldwin said.
Though her mother is gone in body, her spirit remains through the loving memories of the family she left behind, Baldwin said.
“One of the things that took a while for me to tell my mom was I can’t imagine a world without her,” she said. “Well, I still can’t imagine a world without her. Cancer may have taken her away from us, but she continues to be with me spiritually every single day.”
“And even though I may look a little crazy, I still talk to her. And my family will continue her legacy as we celebrate the Fourth of July, make Sunday suppers and always praise god even through the hardest of trials,” Baldwin said.