Names of loved ones who lost their battle to cancer were called out while their friends and family members stood around a lit tree with candles in their hands illuminating their faces as some said a quiet prayer and others silently listened.
The eighth annual Tree of Hope ceremony was held at the Cancer Care Institute on Thursday evening. Aiken Regional Medical Centers and their Caring for Carolina partners, Maxwell Law Firm and WJBF News Channel 6, sponsored the ceremony and any donations collected at the event went to the Savannah River Cancer Foundation.
“This is kind of a touching thing for all of us because it’s a time to honor those who fought the battle – both those who have won and those who lost the fight,” said Liz Stewart, a member of the foundation’s board and a three-time cancer survivor.
Stewart added that it’s also a time to honor those loved ones who stood by the sides of those wrestling with the disease.
The Tree of Hope campaign is one of the foundation’s primary annual fundraisers which start in early November, according to Event Chairperson Maria Toth. She said all funds donated to the foundation stay local and help those affected by cancer in several counties including Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell and Edgefield. The foundation also offers early detection and prevention programs. The need for the foundation’s services has grown over the years.
Jeanne Quattlebaum attended the ceremony and is one of the original members of the foundation, which was established in2003. Suzanne Messick, who passed away in 2007, was a founding member of this organization. Quattlebaum has been touched by cancer in several ways – she is a survivor, her father died of it and recently, she lost a close friend to the disease.
“It’s just important to the survivors and it’s important to the survivors’ families that we remember those who fought so gallantly,” Quattlebaum said about the tree lighting ceremony.
Annette Henderson, Quattlebaum’s daughter, also attended the ceremony. Henderson has watched her mother work diligently for the cause and has been inspired by the work the foundation has done over the years.
Henderson said the tree lighting is a time of great hope but also a time of comfort to those who are at the event to remember a loved one lost.
“It’s both uplifting and sad,” Henderson said. “Our hearts goes out to all of them.”
Scott Ansede, ARMC chief operating officer, said cancer is a horrible disease and the fight against it is ongoing. He recognized the foundation’s work over the years and commended the tree lighting event.
“It’s really meaningful,” Ansede said about the event. “It’s very special for the people going through it.”
The speaker, Tom Nulton, was not able to make the event so his daughter Kim spoke for him. Nulton has had multiple bouts with cancer and with each of those battles, he continues to have a positive attitude. Kim said that he wanted to tell attendees of the event to “keep fighting the good fight.”
Kim also took the opportunity to thank her father’s doctors and the foundation.
“Without them, I don’t know where we’d be,” Kim said. “They’re doing a great job.”
The Savannah River Cancer Foundation will continue to take donations for its Tree of Hope campaign through December. Donations can be mailed to SRCF/Tree of Hope, P.O. Box 3694, Aiken, SC, 29802.
For more information, contact the foundation at 803-649-5433 or visit www.savannahrivercancerfoundation.org.