WARRENSBURG — A breast cancer diagnosis in September 2018 sent Rhonda Bray and her family into a tailspin.
She has a young son, Jaxson, who was only in second grade then. Her husband, Jim, coaches Jax's flag football team at Warrensburg-Latham Elementary School. The team is 33 boys, from kindergarten to fourth grade.
“We had two weeks left of our season, so I figured, if the big boys can do a pink game, why not the little boys?” Jim Bray said. “Our very last game, all the little boys came out and were wearing pink shirts, pink socks, they spray-painted their hair pink. I got them all pink bandannas.
“It wasn't for charity, it was just for support of Miss Rhonda. I wanted to show that the little guys were behind her.”
Since the diagnosis, Rhonda Bray, 43, has gone through chemo, surgery and radiation. She had her last treatment on July 11 and was just released by her radiologist. She goes in for checkups with her oncologist every three months, but is doing well.
“My energy level's coming back and I feel perfectly normal again,” she said. “I feel good. My hair's coming back. I can kind of put it behind me at this point.”
And in celebration of all those things, the team will hold another pink game, noon Saturday, Oct. 5 on the Warrensburg-Latham High School field. This year, Rhonda Bray wanted to give back in thanks for the support she received from the American Cancer Society and other such organizations, and has chosen Kerbystrong, a nonprofit based in Macon and founded in honor of Kerby Damery. He was a race car driver and helped build Macon Speedway's track walls and often raced there. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and died in 2015. The annual Kerbystrong 100 is held every July in his honor and has raised $70,000 in five years.
“He did not lose his battle to cancer,” his Facebook page says. “He won it by living life to the fullest, inspiring others, and touching so many other people's lives.”
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Kerbystrong's mission is to provide support to cancer patients, both moral support and financial assistance through its Cancer Navigator program. Those battling cancer meet with a social worker at Decatur Memorial Hospital's Cancer Care Center, said Nikki Damery, Kerby's widow, and the social workers help connect the patient with services to help. For immediate needs, such as transportation, they have gift cards, and Kerbystrong's contributions help pay for those.
Damery said her husband had cancer for eight years, and his faith and positive attitude helped get the family through those tough times. After his death, Kerbystrong was formed to inspire others to never give up and have a winning attitude, she said.
“Cancer navigators educate staff and help patients to get through the health care system, so many people have a difficult time, goal is to help patients through the complex system and hold their hand,” Damery said. “(Cancer navigators) help guide them through, help them emotionally and financially. With cancer, it's hard emotionally. There are so many barriers financially as well, and that navigator can help identify their needs.”
Rhonda Bray announced the fundraising effort to her friends on Facebook, saying the support she was shown at last year's Pink Game made the family feel loved and helped them get through the following months.
“So of course we are doing it again this year! Only this year we won't be walking onto that field scared, preparing for the unknown, praying for the best, while trying to not think of the worst,” she wrote. “Instead we will be walking onto that field with celebration in our souls for the amazing gift God has given us!”
At this year's game, there will be a 50/50 drawing, a “sweet treats” sale, breast cancer merchandise for sale and donations will also be accepted for Kerbystrong.
The boys will be wearing their regular team shirts, but will have pink bandannas and socks and hair again, Jim Bray said.
“Last year, because it was so new, I'd just gotten diagnosed, and it was thrown together to support me,” Rhonda Bray said. “This year, it's not so last-minute, and we wanted to put some planning into it, just to kind of celebrate that it's a year later and I'm still here.”