Family And Community

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 3, 2013

No one fights alone.

And that couldn’t be more obvious than in Cathy Riddle’s family room, where she and 13 members of her family, all wearing pink shirts, gathered to talk about her latest battle with cancer.

Cathy, 54, was first diagnosed in 2007 with zero stage breast cancer, and at the time, she took what she only describes as a “real radical approach.” She thought she had beaten it, but was diagnosed in July with stage four breast cancer, which has metastasized. She is, as she says, “fighting a whole different battle, a whole different journey.”

But she’s not alone.

With her are her husband of 36 years, Stan, and their family. She counts her childrens’ spouses as if she’d given birth to them too (and says she couldn’t love them any more than if she had), so there’s Jessica, their daughter, who is married to Chris Branham, and their children, Eli, Isabelle, and Anderson; Katie, their daughter, married to Brian McDaniel, and their children, Wyatt and Emma; son Billy and his wife Allie (newlyweds who just returned from a mission trip to Africa); and finally, their youngest daughter, Kelly.

This family could be on the front of a greeting card.

Everyone is smiling, laughing, the couples are holding hands, the grandbabies aren’t fighting. There’s a tree in the corner they decorated the day before. The sun is streaming into the cozy room and Cathy looks around at them all and says, “My family breathes life into me.”

Her chemo, which is strong and supposed to have horrid side effects, has only caused her fatigue, but her first round back in the summer was rough.

“I was about ready to call the family in and say ‘Bye, see y’all in Heaven,’” she said.

She had hoped to start in August at her job in the media center at South Davie, but she wasn’t able. Her new plan is to go back in January.

She doesn’t dwell on her illness, only sharing that after that first round, every morning her grandson Anderson would go into her bedroom to check on her. No matter how bad she was feeling, she greeted him with a smile, because, as she said, “You’ve gotta smile if they walk in that door.”

Their family walks in her door a lot, because everyone lives either with them or nearby, and if they’re not at the house, they’re at Camp Manna Ministries, a church and youth camp the family built that is walking distance from their house off Gibson Way.

Jessica runs the camp and Stan does the grunt work, Cathy said. Brian did the grading, and each family member has some part in it. There is a 10-week summer day camp, after school care, a youth outreach each Tuesday night, and church, which started about a year ago.

“This is not something we planned on, but something God put in our laps,” Jessica said. “It’s been neat to watch this little dream of Mama’s and Daddy’s flourish.”

One of the ponds on the property will be the site of Saturday’s fundraising event Freezin’ for a Reason, being organized by Teresa Bivins and Jessica Miller, to help raise money for Cathy’s medical bills. The event begins Dec. 7 at 9 a.m., with pancakes, pictures with Santa and a silent auction, which includes gift cards, electronics, gift baskets, a weekend mountain getaway and an acoustic guitar, signed by singer Darius Rucker.

The auction will end at 11, and the plunge will get under way. Chris said folks are supposed to get into the water up to their necks and can wear anything except wetsuits. The EMS will be on hand, and there will be a fire and heated buildings for folks to warm up afterward. The cost to plunge is $10 or folks can do a “plungeless plunge” for $10. Plungers can also be sponsored and donations are welcomed. Chris and Billy will be among the plungers.

Cathy will be there (she said her family won’t let her plunge) and she’s excited about the event, because of the opportunity for people to come together and have fun as a community.

“I don’t care if they raise $5 or $10, I don’t care. It’s just going to be a fun time for the community, and I’m glad to be the reason. But I don’t want anyone to die from my chemo,” she said, laughing. “I just want to thank everyone because this county has really rallied around us in a big way. This really speaks to the county that we live in.

“I say the Lord decided the day I would come into this world, and He will decide the day when I leave. I thought my cancer was gone, but He had other plans for my life. I’m just enjoying every day. I saw people at the parade in these shirts, and those people don’t know me, but that just shows this is a county who cares. They just care.”

Camp Manna is off US 601 South from Mocksville, right onto Pine Ridge Road, and three-tenths of a mile down is Gibson Way on the right. There is a Camp Manna sign at the turn. The Cooleemee Now!! Facebook page has information about the plunge.