'Heroes' featured in CC Relay for Life Survivors' Lap
By Rozella Hardin


   The American Cancer Society Relay for Life features some real heroes -- among them cancer survivors. Each year the number of persons participating in the Survivors Lap, which opens the relay, just keeps growing and growing -- a good sign that the battle against cancer is being won.
   The Carter County Relay for Life will be held this Friday, June 20, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Elizabethton High School Track. The Survivors Lap will open the relay, and among the survivors walking that first lap around the track will be Wesley Poland, who will be celebrating his birthday at the Relay. Poland, who will be 84 years old on June 23, in September, 2000, had to have his thyroid and larynx (voice box) surgically removed because of cancer.
   He is the reason that his daughter, Sandy Barker, is serving as captain of the Relay for Life team at the Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton.
   To Sandy, her dad is a hero in more ways than one. "He has been my hero as long as I can remember. He has taught me so many things over the years," she wrote in a note.
   "As a sailor on a baby flat top in World War II, he taught me to love my country," she said, noting that he still attends a reunion with his Navy buddies, and does so with "thankfulness."
   "He taught me humility. His motto was, 'Never ask someone to do what you are not willing to do yourself," Sandy wrote. She explained that Poland, owner of a construction business, would visit job sites and get down in a ditch and help dig while discussing the job with his men.
   "He taught me community service," Sandy shared. Poland would go to the local jail and witness to men in trouble, and would offer many a job when they were released. He visited the elderly and made sure their homes were repaired if there were things that needed to be done. "Through the years he has helped thousands. He always kept money in reserve to use to help people in trouble. Actually, I can't remember a week in my life he hasn't been helping someone," Sandy wrote.
   "He taught that the neighborhood is really the entire globe," she exclaimed. Poland paid his own way to Haiti twice a year from 1979 until the time he was afflicted with cancer. Sandy wrote that her father would sit on a large barrel of fuel strapped to the front of a jeep for six hours to get to a remote clinic in north Haiti. During his many trips, he built a 25-bed unit add-on to the clinic, a duplex home for the doctor and nurse serving there, a cistern so the rain could be caught during the rainy season, and many other structures. "He built them all from stone. He has built a school in Kenya and a Habitat for Humanity house in his own neighborhood," Sandy shared.
   "My father taught that being a friend has nothing to do with age, and the benefits of passing on knowledge," she wrote. Sandy explained by saying that her dad is his grandson, Jimmy's best friend. "During Jimmy's baseball days in Elizabethton, the dugout was destroyed in a storm. Dad took Jimmy down to Elizabethton High School and they rebuilt the dugout. Dad did all the skilled work, but he patiently worked to teach Jimmy that all jobs are worthwhile if they are done to the best of our ability," she shared.
   Sandy said that her dad and Jimmy worked together building the brick planters at the Elizabethton Twins' baseball field. "Jimmy is 21 now, but he and dad plan on working together for about two weeks in August. Dad is his hero, too!" she wrote.
   "Dad taught that each day is a blessing and to be thankful for whatever task we are given. This year alone, he has been to Florida and installed cabinets for a retired Baptist missionary; remodeled a porch in Georgia for a retired Methodist minister; and traveled with Memorial Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton to Cherokee, N.C., to build a camp for Missions to the World. Right now, he's busy doing a brick job for his brother-in-law, who just lost his wife," Sandy wrote.
   Sandy, who is a nurse, said she knew when her dad was diagnosed with cancer, that some rough days would follow with the "dreadful surgery and radiation treatments." A tracheotomy was performed at the University of Virginia Hospital. "He determined in his heart to take one day at a time and make the most of it, and that he did," Sandy said.
   She noted that he continues to work 30 to 40 hours a week, is active in his church and the Gideons. And, with the use of a prosthesis, he says the blessing at family gatherings.
   Poland will be at the Tennessee Technology Center at Elizabethton Relay for Life campsite at the EHS track Friday night, and everyone is invited to come by and meet this "hero."
   Sandy also noted that she has two nursing students, who are cancer survivors, and a third student, who lost a teenager with cancer.
   "One of my students had a bone tumor removed and even though she is in constant pain, she has maintained an A average, is president of the class I teach, and plans to graduate in September. She will also be walking with the Tennessee Technology Center team Friday night," Sandy shared with pride.
   The Tennessee Technology Center team thusfar has raised over $2,500 for Relay for Life.
   Registration for cancer survivors, who would like to participate in the Survivors Laps at the Relay for Life will begin at 6 p.m. at the EHS Track. Events will continue through the night until 8 a.m. Saturday, when the final lap will be walked, campsites will be cleared, and awards will be presented.
   The public is encouraged to be a part of the Relay by attending and cheering the walkers on as they walk in honor of those who have fought and won their battle with cancer and in memory of those who have fought and lost the battle.
   "There is no finish to the walk. We'll continue to walk, raise funds, and do whatever is necessary until we wholly win the battle," said Lew Honeycutt, who serves as co-chairman of this year's Relay, which will be held in memory of former Relay Chairperson Diane Morris, who succumbed to cancer earlier this year. Morris, who served on the Elizabethton City Council, was dedicated to the Relay, having served as Relay chairman for two years. "She was a brave and courageous fighter," said Honeycutt.