Inspiring. Empowering. Blessed. Those are just some of the words one hears through the din of voices when standing in the middle of Relay for Life.
The relay, held at the Center for Rural Development overnight Friday and Saturday morning, was partly about raising money and partly about raising awareness of cancer, but it also contained the tributes and stories of those who have battled the various versions of the disease.
Some of those stories, told by the women who lived them, were presented in a video at the event's kickoff.
Brooke Whitis, Sheila Grider and Shari Tuttle stood on the Big Screen to tell their experience, while in real life they prepared to be the torch bearers for the 2019 opening ceremony.
Whitis explained that she and the others have been friends since childhood, but were brought back together in recent years due to all being diagnosed with three very different cancers.
Tuttle found out in September, 2008 that she had pancreatic cancer - something she said felt like a death sentence.
Grider then was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2017. In her video, she told the crowd that Whitis reached out to her with support and gifts. One very special gift in particular Grider carried with her for two years.
"Brook brought me hope. Brook brought me the strength to face the hardest thing I've ever had to see in my life."
In July 2018, Whitis herself was diagnosed with skin cancer, a disease that can make its patients feel alone because the nature of it is different from other cancers.
"Skin cancer people, we don't feel like we belong. We didn't go though the hell others have gone through. We simply have it removed, so we feel like we're on an island. We don't belong, and that's something we have to change … because skin cancer survivors are survivors too."
Tuttle offered advice based on her experience with pancreatic cancer: "Don't Google everything."
She said also that patients should tap into the resources available to them through groups like the American Cancer Society. And, once the shock of the diagnosis wears off, Tuttle said, "It's very empowering to have a plan and to have a good support system in place."
The goal for this year's Pulaski Relay was to raise $180,000, and as of Thursday evening, Relay co-chair Sandy Black said they had reached $143,000. That was before all Relay teams had turned in money or the totals had been calculated from both the silent auction and the live auction held during the Relay.
During the opening ceremony, two local doctors were honored for their roles in raising a good chunk of change for the American Cancer Society's ReacherHERS: Women Fighting Cancer initiative.
Dr. Rachel Shelton, who serves as the General Surgeon and Medical Director at Lake Cumberland Wound Care Center, and Dr. Sandy Schuldheisz, a Physician/Owner of The Lung and Sleep Disorder Institution, raised $10,000 in the month of May alone as Kentucky ambassadors for ReacHERS.