Relay for Life always brings waves of love and support for those with cancer, but in Ware Shoals, those waves have been coming for a while.
Ware Shoals High School will host a Relay for Life event from 7-9 p.m. Saturday at the horseshoe driveway in front of the school. Superintendent Fay Sprouse said tables will be set up to allow for social distancing, and the event will be a little different from traditional relays, but Ware Shoals needed to come together to host this to show support for two of their own.
Nancy Brown, Ware Shoals Middle School principal, was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in January, and Ware Shoals Primary student Mackenzie Sills also has cancer. Classmates, teachers, staff and people throughout the community have banded together to throw their love and support behind both, with yard signs up throughout town for “Brown’s Brigade.” At the primary school, Sills’ cheer squad calls themselves “Kinsey’s Crew” as they support her and her family.
“The Relay event is bigger than the school district, it’s about the whole community,” Sprouse said. “A lot of times we feel helpless and we want to do something, but we don’t know what to do when people have cancer. Relay is an outlet for that. It gives us a central focal point to help our loved ones, and others.”
The relay will feature the iconic luminaria, but instead of having groups walk a track as usual, there will be tables set up with baskets of items for people to bid on in an auction. Separately, from 5-7 p.m. in the community library building, volunteers will run a silent auction also intended to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. There will also be musicians and a photo booth, among other things.
Sills’ family said they’re grateful for the love, support and prayers they’ve received from everyone. Brown, who has raised money for cancer research before by sitting on her school’s roof, said she was floored by the community’s response to her diagnosis.
“It is overwhelming, let me tell you. Completely overwhelming,” she said. “It was a shock to all of us, and within a week there were signs up for ‘Brown’s Brigade,’ and people wearing purple on Thursdays. I get my chemo on Thursdays.”
Brown lives in Starr, but she said she can feel the community praying for her from home. She’s been able to work from home while undergoing treatment, where she’s been spending more time with her family since the diagnosis.
“There’s no community anywhere that I’d rather claim as my own,” she said. “It’s love. It’s relationships that have been built over the 17 years that I’ve been there. I guess this has been the overwhelming part for me. I was doing what I loved, and I was doing it in the community I was doing it for, but I never expected them to do anything for me.”
Ware Shoals had a youth pageant to raise money for cancer research, and Brown said she expected it to be like any other pageant. Then the children were asked, “What’s your message of inspiration to Ms. Brown?”
“It was gut-wrenching,” she said. “Some of the girls cried and couldn’t make it through it.”
Love drives all of it, she said. Every conversation she’s had with her teachers often ends with “love y’all” — she said it comes naturally after so long. The diagnosis left her reeling, she said. It wasn’t caught early because there’s no regular screening for pancreatic cancer, and it took Brown a few days to come to terms with her diagnosis before she shared it with others.
But now she’s surrounded by love and support. Every Thursday, when she goes for chemotherapy, she takes with her a prayer blanket given to her by her supporters.
“I walk into chemotherapy and I walk in with an armor of thousands of prayers wrapped around me,” she said. “I know the people of Ware Shoals are praying for me and it empowers me. It makes me fight. It makes me want to get better and get back to school.”
Brown said she’s been saving her energy all week, resting up so she can attend the Relay event and see the people who are cheering her on.
“Words cannot describe the love that I feel, the prayers that I feel,” she said “Words cannot describe the blessings that have come from this.”