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Rita Bowles, left, who spoke during the opening ceremony for the 10th annual Crawford County Relay For Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, helps Carol Shelton, right, carry the banner during the Survivor’s Lap. Photos by Chris Adams

10th Relay raises $49,618

Perseverance, faith highlight opening ceremony

June 30, 2010
The theme for this year's Crawford County Relay For Life, Friday and Saturday at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School near Marengo, was "Happy Birthday." It certainly was that for the 10th annual event, as it raised almost $49,618 for the American Cancer Society, up more than $6,000 from a year ago.

Led by the Moms on a Mission team, which collected $23,425, shattering the previous single-team record of about $8,000, also held by Moms, the event easily surpassed its $45,000 goal. The effort was even more impressive considering the Relay's 11 teams were just half as many as a year ago.

"I was just so tickled," said the Rev. Bill Helms, who co-chaired the event with his wife, Pam, for the second consecutive year.

Bowles’ son, Jonathon, presents the Rev. Bill Helms, co-chair of the Relay, with a check for $5,421 he and other students at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School raised during a mini-Relay at the school.
Pam Helms' team, Pammy's Gang, collected the second largest amount, $5,293, followed by Can-Rem-Su, which raised $4,733.

From the light-hearted theme laps overnight to the disc jockey pumping rock and roll through the public address system, the Relay provided plenty of fun.

Mixed in with the celebration, however, were emotional reminders of why the teams work so hard during the year to raise each penny. One of those came at dusk Friday, when candles and tiki torches circling the track were lit in honor of cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle with the disease as their names were read aloud. Another was when survivors, wearing the traditional purple shirts, and their caregivers walked the first lap to kick off the Relay.

However, the most emotional may have been when lifelong Crawford County resident Rita Bowles, who just last month had brain surgery to remove cancer that first appeared in her colon and liver a year ago, spoke during the opening ceremony.

Mixing in humor — "Some of you may know me as the woman in her mid-40s who fell out a cherry tree years ago" — Bowles, with her head wrapped and standing beneath an umbrella to avoid the direct sun, shared her story of perseverance and faith.

Her story, however, began long before she was diagnosed with cancer. Having met her future husband, John, in the nursery at Fairview General Baptist Church at Taswell, they remained just friends until Bowles, 18 months his elder, went off to college. A spark developed, and the summer before her senior year, they married.

"I would like to say that the best day of my life was when John asked me to marry him, but I can't say that," Bowles told the crowd. "You see, I asked him to marry me. I think it was the smartest move I ever made."

The couple received their first test a couple of years later when, expecting their first child, Bowles had a miscarriage.

Luminarias in honor of cancer survivors and in memory of those who have lost their battle with the disease are lit at dusk on Friday.
"You can imagine how devastating this was to a young couple like us, but both of our families and our church family came through for us. They were there and they supported us," she said.

"We were told by several people, 'You will either grow closer together or this will tear you completely apart'," Bowles continued. "Thankfully, we were in the first group … We did grow closer together as a couple and also closer to God. We also grew closer to our church family."

Bowles became pregnant again, and just more than a year later gave birth to the couple's first child, Samuel. Efforts for a second child, however, brought two more miscarriages, but Bowles finally gave birth to Jonathon almost a decade later. Hoping to have another child, the couple decided to "let nature take its course," and, when Jonathon was 10 months old, Bowles again found out she was pregnant.

"Just as we were afraid, I miscarried," she said. "My doctor told me that I had put my body through enough and I probably should just be happy with what I had" and not try again.

The couple, however, decided to try one more time, and Bowles gave birth to their third son, Isaac.

Although Bowles still sometimes longed for another child, she thought their family was complete. Yet, when a family member called in October 2001, asking them if they would be willing to adopt a niece's baby girl, due to be born the following March, the couple agreed.

Everything appeared good, but the expectant mother's blood pressure increased and the baby had to be taken by C-section at 24 weeks. When they got to the hospital, Isaiah David, not Paige Elizabeth as they planned to name the baby, was born, "but by that point, that was OK," Bowles joked.

Weighing less than a pound, Isaiah, whom Bowles described as a "fighter," spent his first four months in the hospital. In August, he will enter the second grade.

The Bowles family still wasn't complete, however. Two years ago, Jonathon asked if a friend in need could move in. Having not had a good experience with a similar situation before, Bowles reluctantly agreed, but told Jonathon that while she would provide his friend with food and a place to sleep, she wouldn't love him.

"Well, that lasted about two weeks," Bowles said, adding she and her husband now consider him to be another son.

Turning her attention to "the most current obstacle going on in our lives," Bowles talked about her cancer. Since being diagnosed last year, she has undergone treatment, including chemotherapy, and had surgery to remove 65 percent of her liver and the tumor in her colon. The surgery was a success and her liver began rejuvenating, and Bowles believed she would be well enough to resume her teaching job at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School this fall.

However, another scan found spots on her lungs and suspicious looking lymph nodes. When it was discovered that the original tumor had returned, the doctored ordered radiation treatments.

"After I had been through three weeks of radiation, I ended up in the E.R. at U of L Hospital with uncontrollable headaches. Now, this was just four weeks ago today," she said. "It turned out that I had developed a brain tumor."

The good news is that it was operable; the bad news was it was just a week before Jonathon was to graduate from high school. Not wanting to delay things, Bowles went ahead with the surgery the Sunday before his Friday evening graduation.

"They sent me home on Wednesday, and the doctor said, 'If you want to be at your son's graduation on Friday night, that's where you need to be'," she said. "Well, that's all he had to say. So, I was at my son's graduation five days after having brain surgery.

"You see, I believe that this was all God's doing. I believe He cares about the small things in our lives, and when I think about all we've gone through in the last year, I really had missed very little," she said, noting she attended most of her son's athletic events, including every basketball game.

The "icing on the cake," Bowles said, was a family vacation to Cancun a few weeks ago.

"God is so good," she said. "This whole journey has really been something. In some ways, it has even been a blessing."

Bowles concluded by urging everyone to listen to their bodies, explaining early detection is key to beating cancer.

"If you are diagnosed with cancer, don't give up. Stay positive; take each day as it comes. Accept the outpouring of love that will come. Don't deprive others of their blessings that are sure to come to them when they help you," Bowles said.

"Allow God to use you during this time. You never know who might be watching you during this time of trial, and something you're going through might help them in the near future."

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