Fights with cancer inspire lives

Published 12:02 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

Applause rang out at The Club in downtown Birmingham Aug. 4 for five fighters from Shelby County. While they may not have all waged war on a foreign battlefield, they have all faced a similar foe — cancer.

Denny LaVercombe of Helena, Cheri Palmer of Pelham, Dick Quinn of North Shelby and Linda Wren of Columbiana all received Life Inspiration Survivor awards from the American Cancer Society. Corley Ellis of Columbiana, meanwhile, received a Life Inspiration Caregiver award.

“We’re all united tonight against a terribly frightening enemy,” said award chairman Scott Pruitt. “It’s brought us together. People see the way you take this challenge on and tonight were here to recognize you.”

Each recipient’s story is remarkable. Not only did they fight to beat the disease themselves, they now lead charges to raise money for research and provide support for current patients.

Wren found a way to bring her community together through her fight. She encouraged community members in Columbiana to establish a South Shelby Relay for Life. In the first year, Wren led volunteers in Columbiana to raise almost $11,000. Last year, the event brought in a record $109,907. In the past nine years, the South Shelby Relay for Life has raised more than $645,295.

Wren said there is nothing altruistic about Relaying for her.

“My reason to Relay is selfish,” she said. “I want them to find a cure so I don’t have it again. I want them to find a cure so my mother doesn’t have it again.”

Wren however lives a very unselfish life. On top of raising funds for Relay for Life, she also participates in Reach to Recovery, a support group for women diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s been a member for 14 years calling and visiting women dealing with the disease.

“There’s a bond developed between two people whose lives have been affected by cancer,” Wren said. “It doesn’t matter where you are in life you can be touched by it.

Dick Quinn and his wife have both faced the disease. Both of Dick’s parents dealt with the disease — his mother with breast cancer and his father with Lymphoma. Dick was diagnosed with prostate cancer himself in 2008. His wife also faced colon cancer. She said he’s always had a giving heart.

“He never left my side, but carried me to the other side as a survivor,” Diane Quinn said.

Dick works with Road to Recovery. He drives patients to cancer treatments at least once a week through the program.

“I feel very insignificant when I hear about these other people and their journeys with cancer,” Dick said. “It’s hard for my wife and I both to see young people with cancer and to see good friends who discover the disease and pass one or two months later.”

Quinn said he and his wife focus on what God wants them to learn from the struggles cancer presents.

Other recipients:

Denny LaVercombe — When LaVercombe’s skin turned an unusual color in April 2005 his doctor ran tests and discovered a pancreatic tumor. At first the doctor didn’t believe he could remove the mass, so for six months LaVercombe endured chemotherapy and radiation. When he sought a second opinion, tests indicated the tumor had shrunk. A whipple procedure led to remission. In 2007, doctors found spots on his liver. He endured another round of chemo and the loss of 40 pounds before finally going back into remission a second time.

He now offers his spare time to provide rides for patients to UAB and at one time even traveled to Washington, D.C. to promote funding for additional pancreatic cancer research.

Cheri Palmer — Palmer knows the disease all too well. She’s faced it three times. At 15, she was forced to undergo a hysterectomy because of endometriosis. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. The cancer returned in 2008 and refused to disappear despite chemo and radiation. That year she had surgery to replace her larynx with a mechanical version.

Palmer and her husband have served as co-chairs for the North Shelby Relay for Life for two years. In 2008, the event raised $25,000 and then upped the ante this year, raising $33,000 and adding 10 new teams.

Corley Ellis –– Ellis received the annual Life Inspiration Caregiver award. He’s stood by his friend Scott Armstrong’s side as he battled the disease. He even traveled to Duke when Armstrong had to have a chord blood transplant.

“Corley and I have always been best friends, but if there was ever any doubt before I got Leukemia there is no doubt now,” Armstrong said. “He’s been with me every step of the way.”

Armstrong’s father Don Armstrong accepted the award for Ellis. Corley and Scott were on a fishing trip to Alaska the night of the banquet.