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May 2, 2013 Issue

Why we Relay
Relay this Friday
Author turns family history into book

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Why we Relay

By Faye Ellison
Staff writer

A 13-year battle ended in April this year. A battle to live.

Orville Varhaug was only in Jefferson County for a short time, but his fight against the prostate cancer that eventually took over his mind and body will leave a lasting effect on so many who knew him here, especially his daughter, Relay For Life Co-Chair Christy James, and Christy’s daughter, Payton Bush.

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Christy participated in Relay For Life with friends in Arkansas before she ever stepped foot on Georgia soil, but had not lost anyone close to her before. When she arrived she began working at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office through Southern Health Partners.

“When I got here, the captain of the jail had cancer and that is when Heather Sheppard and I decided to put a team together,” she said. “They had a team a long time ago, but this is our third year with the Sheriff’s Office and Southern Health Partners. She and I are both on the committee this year and we were last year.”

Her father moved here this year when he was in the winter of his fight, coming to light a torch, coming to be a survivor and an inspiration to Christy and her daughter.

torch, coming to be a survivor and an inspiration to Christy and her daughter.

“When they play the music during the Survivors’ Lap, I tear up anyway,” Christy cried. “I think about my dad and what other survivors are going through. I see the children walking and see what they are going through with chemo and I think I will be very emotional this year. He was just trying to make it to light the torch.”

Before departing for Georgia, Orville had made just that statement, “I have a torch to light,” to his doctors who said his body was too weak and the cancer far too aggressive to allow him to survive the trip to Georgia.

“Every year my dad got a physical in December,” Christy, a nurse, remembered back to many years ago. “In 1999, everything was normal. In the middle of January in 2000, he was getting some life insurance and of course they needed to draw blood and they checked it for prostate cancer. His blood showed the cancer was elevated in his system.”

He went to the doctor’s office where his daughter worked.

“He went back the following week and his levels had doubled in a week’s time,” she said. “We had him come back a week later and redrew his blood. It had tripled in a matter of three weeks. We sent him to a urologist, who told him he had prostate cancer and that it had begun to spread in less than a month.”

Immediately doctors began radiation and gave him other medicine to take. For about a year, Orville treated his cancer this way. Over the course of four years he would take medicine and have radiation for about three months and then stop for six to seven months.

“The goal was because it was so aggressive, a cure wasn’t an option, but to keep it under control and keep it from spreading,” Christy said. “With radiation alone, he was able to control it for about four years.”

In 2004, Orville’s doctors told him that his cancer was back and spreading. He began radiation four times a week for six to seven months.

“During that time, he had a spot on his back,” Christy said. “They began him on hormone therapy and it also helped to keep it under control until 2006, when he had a knot to come up in his neck.”

Christy said her father believed he had a sore throat, when he was sent to an oncologist. He found out the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and three of them had prostate cancer cells in them. He began chemotherapy, five days a week.

After a year, Christy moved to Jefferson County, and her father was also able to stop chemotherapy.

“It seemed everything was under control again and normal,” she said. “He went every three months for a checkup. He was off chemo for a year, but nothing lasted very long, because in 2008 they found two more spots on his back.”

All the while, Orville was more connected to the Relay For Life than many people knew, the money raised supports the American Cancer Society who researches and experiments to find new drugs and hopefully one day, cures. Orville was taking a drug that had been researched and founded by the American Cancer Society.

“From 2008 on, he was on and off chemo for the rest of his life,” Christy said.

The chemotherapy had to stop in January 2012 because it was beginning to affect his heart.

“At that point, they put him on medicine for 15 to 18 months,” Christy said. “Doctors said there was nothing else they could do but keep him comfortable.”

Orville seemed healthy, even through his bout with cancer, he still walked two miles a day, even while taking chemotherapy. He took care of a 92-year-old man until the middle of 2012.

“He was always my rock. Even though he was fighting cancer, you didn’t know it,” Christy said. “He had a positive outlook. He was just really great.”

In November 2012, he passed out. Doctors found it had spread to two spots on one hip and four spots on other bones. In December, it had spread from his hips to seven spots on his spine and a small mass on his kidney, the size of a pin top. By February of this year, the mass was the size of a golf ball.

After passing out March 17, the mass was the size of a grapefruit. He moved to Georgia on April 2 after leaving a VA hospital. His son drove him, while doctors warned Christy that he might not make it.

“He decided to quit fighting and live,” Christy said of her father wanting to be with family. “He died on April 13. He was trying to wait for the ceremony, but he couldn’t.”

But in Christy’s eyes, Orville is the reason we Relay. When he was first diagnosed, doctors gave him a death sentence of two years because aggression in prostate cancer is very rare.

“They didn’t know how he would respond, but he did well,” she said. “But by March it was in all of his bones, blood and everywhere.”

Christy lost her father. Her 12-year-old daughter, Payton, lost her best friend.

“Her view of cancer is it is stupid and she doesn’t understand why more people don’t try to help,” Christy admitted. “To her he never appeared sick. He never lost his hair or lost weight. He looked healthy.”

Before cancer took her grandfather, Payton knew the purpose of Relay For Life, she is a youth committee member, she sells ads.

“She works and he is the reason she does it,” Christy said. “Not up until this last scare, did she even realize that her Papaw was sick. She doesn’t understand the concept. She knew he had cancer and needed medicine, but I don’t think she realized what cancer could do. She didn’t understand until now. She thinks cancer is stupid, and this is why she Relays, so another little girl will not have to lose her Papaw to anything.”

Even after more than 20 years of being divorced, Orville’s ex-wife, Barbara Varhaug, never left his side after March 17.

“She made a promise to my dad that we would light that torch and keep fighting for other people,” Christy said.

“From a nursing standpoint, I knew cancer would eventually take him, but from a daughter’s point, my dad was supposed to live forever. The medicine did work, it worked for 13 years. They said he couldn’t last because it was so aggressive but he did and he never appeared sick.

“Since March 17, I knew the time was coming. That was the hardest thing, but those were his wishes. He said he didn’t want to fight anymore. He just wanted to be comfortable.”

Letting go for her father was not easy, he lost his independence, which meant a lot to a man who took care of himself. He even made his own funeral arrangements.

“He never got sad,” Christy said. “Not until the last week. He knew he was not going to make it till Sunday. But he was still up, walking around. He didn’t cry. He was cracking jokes with Hospice.”

The Wednesday morning before he passed, he could not move out of his recliner.

“I went to work Thursday night and my mother called about 10 p.m. and called Hospice in,” Christy explained. “I was in shock at how fast he went down. He was still talking, but we couldn’t understand what he said.”

A mother of one of Payton’s friends took her on a vacation, while he was readying to leave Earth.

Thursday night, Hospice told Christy and Barbara, he had hours now, not days, thinking that the cancer had spread to his brain because it was in a lymph node behind his ear and he could not see anymore.

From that Thursday on, Christy set her alarm to wake her every 30 minutes to check on him. She and her mother stayed in the living room with him.

“Saturday morning, I laid down and got up at 5:45 a.m., I got up at 6:30 a.m. I had a pulse monitor that checked his pulse and oxygen. I could talk to him and he would mumble, he wasn’t hurting at this point.”

She was up again at 7:15 a.m., she went back to sleep and she woke up abruptly a little before 7:40 a.m. Orville died on a Saturday.

“The machine stopped reading when I walked into the living room, it stopped beeping. He had passed.”

Christy thanks Augusta Hospice for always being there for her father and family.

“They were wonderful,” she said. “They are the most caring and sweet people I have ever met.”

Thinking of her father while trying to continue her Relay For Life duties has sidelined her at times, but she always regroups.

“He will be the driving force behind me even more.”




Relay this Friday

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

At least one event every year brings together the people of Jefferson County, north and south, Louisville and Wrens, Stapleton and Bartow–Relay For Life, benefitting the American Cancer Society, a nationwide community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer.

This year, 14 teams and countless survivors and supporters will line the walking track at Jefferson County High School beginning Friday afternoon.


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“This year Glascock County is joining us,” Relay For Life Co-Chair Christy James said. “We have one team from Glascock County, and we are very glad to have them and help them get more involved. Their team will have a bouncy house.”

James said that the goal to have 14 teams this year was met, while they are still trying to reach their goal for participating survivors. The event hopes to raise $48,000, while Jefferson County also celebrates 19 years of fighting cancer. The theme is, “Carnival For Life.”

“Thank you for your support and involvement, we are a community that takes up the fight,” James said. “We hope that you will leave with fond memories of this year’s Relay and that you have a great time and gain a renewed commitment to the American Cancer Society and the fight against cancer.”

The event will begin with the opening of the Survivor Tent at 5 p.m. May 3, with music by Fernandez McCoy. The opening ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. and the Survivor Lap will begin at 6:15 p.m.

Throughout the night there will be entertainment by Stephanie’s Dance Explosion, Bethany Kathleen, Elizabeth Wehmeyer and Donna and the Augusta Spinners. There will be awards, the Luminaria Ceremony at 9 p.m., a beach party, line dancing, themed laps and the newly added Fight Back Ceremony at 11:30 p.m. The closing ceremony will be held at 11:45 p.m.

“We will still be going the next until the next day,” James said. “This will just be a stopping point for those who can’t make it back the next day or may need to leave.”

Food will be furnished by teams.

Other fun includes a dunking booth, temporary tattoos, cornhole tournament, face painting and goldfish toss. There will also be glow sticks and necklaces, as well as baskets to be raffled.

The year’s teams are Louisville Middle School, Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office/SHP, Disciples For Life, WES Schoolhouse Rockers, Jefferson Hospital, The “HOTS” Team, Gibson Health and Rehabilitation, CANAAN Galilee Baptist Church Believers, Kamin Chalkwalkers, Queensborough National Bank & Trust, Team WARRIOR, Louisville Academy Elementary and The Homeplace Adult Daycare.

Luminaries are $5 and may be purchased by contacting James or on the day of the event by 6 p.m.

Sponsors include Home and Office Technical Solutions, Southern Health Partners, Battle Lumber, First State Bank, Team Excavating, Samsons/Galaxy, Jefferson Energy, W.T. Lamb Investments, Inc., William Mizell Ford, Lamb Brothers Lumber Co., Wrens Finance Company, Cooper Machine Company, Inc., U.S. 1 Recycling and The Homeplace.

“On behalf of the Relay Planning Committee, the American Cancer Society, our team captains, corporate sponsors and survivors, we welcome you to the 2013 American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Jefferson County,” James said. “A special thanks to Jefferson County High School for the use of their facilities for our event. We want to say how grateful we are to be a part of a community that rallies around and supports this cause with such enthusiasm.”




Author turns family history into book

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

William Rawlings will be signing his latest book, “A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff,” at The Book Worm in Louisville Thursday from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Rawlings, who has lived in Sandersville all his life and practices medicine there, said this is a totally different book from others he has written.


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“It’s a non-fiction book,” he said. The subtitle of this book is, “The Great Recession and the Death of Small Town Georgia.”

He said this book is the tale of two stories – one about his great uncle, Charles Graves Rawlings, who spent his last years in prison for murder and the other story about the death of the small town.

Charles Rawlings was accused of killing his first cousin Gus Tarbutton. The 1925 murder was one of Georgia’s biggest news stories of the 1920s.

“I’ve always liked history,” Rawlings said. “My family’s lived here for 200 years.”

The author said a cousin suggested he write the story of his great uncle.

“It was really as much as anything a labor of love,” he said. “I went and started looking into it. It was the most amazing thing. The story of Great Uncle Charlie and the murder was less interesting than the history of what was going on.”

The author said he decided to combine the two stories.

Rawlings said it took him about a year and a half to write the book.

“A lot of that was spent hunched over newspaper files,” he said. He researched newspapers in Athens, the University of Georgia, Sandersville, Wrightsville and Dublin.

“It’s just absolutely fascinating stuff,” he said, adding he interviewed anyone he could.

Rawlings said the book is mostly set in Washington and Johnson counties, but does have some references to Jefferson County.

Charles Rawlings at one time owned 40,000 acres of land and had businesses all over central Georgia.

“He was referred to by Atlanta papers in his day as one of the richest men in Georgia,” Rawlings said.

“The most amazing thing was that when I grew up I thought I’d heard this story about my Uncle Charlie who committed murder. The most shocking thing is that the man spent his last years in prison; but, he was innocent, of this particular thing,” he said.

The book is being published by Mercer University Press.

“I really wanted to go with Mercer because they’re a respected academic press and that’s important to me,” he said.

The book is available in hardback and electronic versions.

For more information about Rawlings, visit his website at www.williamrawlings.com.







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