Garbed in black and Relay for Life’s signature purple, Lynn Stepp seemed to dress like the antagonist of “The Wizard of Oz,” but she thought otherwise.
“They call me the Evil Witch of the West, but I think of myself as the Sweet Witch of the South,” said Stepp, who serves as the survivor chairwoman.
Stepp, a 22-year cancer survivor, and others kicked off the new year of Relay for Life as characters from children’s novels Tuesday evening at Scott’s Downtown in Gainesville. With the event “Closing the Book on Cancer,” organizers hoped to bring particular attention to Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
“I hope that the kids would be able to live as long or longer,” Stepp said.
Nancy Copper, the speaker for the night’s event, was given less than a year to live after being diagnosed with lymphoma.
“Initially, at 19, they told me I wouldn’t live to see 20,” Copper said.
That episode is now 25 years in the past, as Copper shared her journey with the audience of survivors and caregivers. Helping others in the cancer community is ingrained in her life, Copper said.
“It means everything. It’s become part of who I am,” she said.
In recent months, Copper’s experience has brought relief to co-chairwoman Gail Schneider and her daughter Sybil. Sybil was diagnosed with lymphoma in February.
“It was comforting just to talk to someone. She’s so down to earth and easy to talk to,” Sybil Schneider said of Copper.
Finding the laughter through the tears, Copper said, is paramount in survival. With someone to lean on and to talk to, the treatments and daily struggles are that much easier.
“It means so much when you can look someone in the face and say, ‘I’ve been there’,” Copper said.
The fight for survival brought Copper closer to God, she said, thanking the friends and supporters put in her path.
“He walked me through it to be touched by so many people,” Copper said.