Last Sunday’s Relay for Life benefit at BJ’s on the Water in Ocean City raised thousands of dollars for cancer research, but the event also included a series of powerful moments that, more than give faces to a movement, served as a rallying call to anyone who ever watched as a loved one’s life was threatened by cancer.
The event also doubled as a CD release party for Teenage Rust, the ’60s-styled garage group that includes BJ’s owners Billy and Maddy Carder as members, the former being a two-time cancer survivor.
Proceeds from the sales of the albums went to Relay for Life, but that was just the beginning.
Maddy took to the microphone just after 6 p.m. to announce the raffle drawing of a pink Electra cruiser bicycle that Ocean Pines resident Marty Clarke gave to his wife, Donna, herself a cancer survivor prior to her death in a car accident last November.
“On Nov. 6 we lost a dear friend, mother, grandmother, wife to most of us in this room,” Maddy said. “When she passed, Marty immediately came up to me and said, ‘I’ve got something of Donna’s I want to donate to your Relay For Life benefit.”
Maddy said the Clarkes “have always been a part of our team” during their annual campaign leading up to the Relay For Life of North Worcester County event held at Frontier Town.
“We sold 100 $20 tickets,” Maddy said. “Boom, Donna, $2,000 more dollars to Relay because of you.”
Jeremy Markel, a manager at BJ’s, won the drawing.
The night included several other raffle awards tied to Relay For Life, capped by a $10,000 50/50 prize won by Quiet Storm owner Bill Dreibelbis.
Markel, meanwhile, said he planned to give the bicycle to his girlfriend.
“I’m going to make sure that she properly takes care of it and gives it the respect it’s due for the situation,” he said. “I met [Donna Clarke] not too long ago, right before the accident. It’s definitely moving.
“What’s so great about this town is everybody comes together and helps out,” Markel said. “I’ve never been in a place before that’s like that. It makes everybody feel special. I’m definitely honored.”
Fittingly last year, on Jan. 3, the town honored the Carders with the Hal Glick Award, presented each year to area residents known for their charitable efforts.
It was in 2000 that Billy was first diagnosed with a non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Twelve years later, doctors told him he had lymphoma of the central nervous system.
“He started losing his vision in May of 2012,” Maddy said. “I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Have you ever had floaters in your eyes?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but they’re here and gone in a second.’ He said, ‘I can’t seem to get rid of them.’
“He went to several doctors down here and they kept telling him it was just a virus in his eye,” Maddy continued. “They kept treating it and his vision kept getting worse and worse.”
Billy ended up at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where he had two eye operations and a biopsy that led to the second cancer diagnosis.
“It started in his eyes and that’s where we were praying it was going to stay because the central nervous system is your eyes, your brain and your spinal cord,” Maddy said. “Unfortunately, on June 30, 2013 we found out it had moved to his brain.”
Maddy said doctors prescribed “aggressive” rounds of chemotherapy several times a week. Because of the treatments, Billy lost the ability to walk.
“He was on so many steroids,” Maddy said. “He was on 14 different medications. It just never stopped. We were trying to run this place, we’re trying to take care of him, we’re running up to Hopkins all the time.
“Finally in September 2013, the tumor in his brain started diminishing and they approached us about a bone marrow transplant,” Maddy continued. “The gift that we got was that the doctors believed in him and believed in the research they had done. That’s why [Relay For Life] is so close to our heart, because of the research. If it had been just a couple years prior, they probably would not have been able to save his life.”
Maddy remembers the difficult time when she was tasked with being a caregiver to her ailing husband, and stressed the importance of staying positive in the face of unspeakable adversity.
“The caregiver – it’s not happening to them, but it’s happening to them because they’re fighting for the person they love’s life, but yet there’s so much on their shoulders,” she said. “You’re trying to keep that person’s spirit going and you’re trying to be that rock, but you’re giving them injections and you’re cleaning out their ports and you’re seeking whatever you can seek from the doctors – however many answers you can get.
“You’re online researching things and you’re surrounded by people that are going through things, and that’s how you get through it because you know you have to stay positive and you can’t let any negativity enter your body,” Maddy said. “The minute negativity enters your body, you might as well say goodbye. You have to stay straight and you have to stay positive and you have to fight the fight.”
Maddy went on to say the amount of money someone donates is not as important as the fact that they become engaged.
“I don’t put the monkey on my back about how much money we raise – not in this day and age,” she said. “It’s all about whatever people can give, because everybody knows somebody that’s going through this. Whatever we can raise, we raise because we know it’s going to research.”
Speaking after the event, Clarke deflected attention away from himself and his late wife, and onto Billy and Maddy and the upcoming benefit walk.
“The event wasn’t so much about Donna, it was about Relay For Life and raising money to fight cancer, which is what it’s been for years and years and years,” he said. “Donna participated in it every year and she was a cancer survivor. The only difference, of course, was that this year she couldn’t be there.
“I am just stupefied at how much money we raised with that bike. I think that’s just fabulous,” Clarke continued. “What a great job Billy and Maddy continue to do for the benefit of cancer research. That’s what it’s about – it’s about them. And I was really proud of my daughters and all the work they did on it.”
Clarke also underscored the importance of the Relay For Life survivor walk on May 8 at Frontier Town, and urged people to continue giving whatever they can.
“This is not over,” Clarke said. “People can be there and support Team BJ by coming out, getting involved or writing a check.”
For more information visit www.relayforlife.org/northworcestermd or www.facebook.com/NorthWorcesterRelay.