April 23, 2013 10:08:01 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
With the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fast approaching, local volunteers are furiously working to pull off the fund-raiser. At the center of all the hustle and bustle is Mott Ellis. With her energetic personality and obvious passion for helping those with cancer, Ellis has propelled Relay for Life into a community event that is attended by thousands.
But she's quick to brush off any accolades.
"I'm just one person," she said. "It takes a group to do this and I'm just one of many."
Ellis, a Caledonia native who now lives in New Hope, first began volunteering with Relay for Life after her mother's death in 2004. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and died five years later.
"During that time it was so heart wrenching to see everything she went through," Ellis said. "She was never in remission. At that point is when I decided I wanted to get involved and give back because it was so devastating.
"I was bitter and angry and hurt at that time because I didn't understand. I prayed God would open a door and show me how He wanted me to be involved in the American Cancer Society. Doors starting opening and windows, too."
Then the unthinkable happened. Ellis's high school sweetheart and husband of more than 40 years, Wayne, was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.
Ellis said that while she was scared for her husband, she had a peace about his diagnosis that she had not felt with her mother.
"Yes, I was devastated. Yes, I cried," Ellis said. "My heart was actually broken because he is my soul mate and my life. But I had a peace about it. I knew his journey wasn't over."
As Wayne's cancer went into remission, Ellis had her own diagnosis. In 2011, she underwent surgery to remove melanoma from her arm.
"Again, I had a peace. I wasn't alarmed," she said. "It's almost like I had to know what other people went through. Knowing that I've walked in the shoes of someone who has been there. I've seen what it does as a caregiver but now I know what it's like."
Although she's endured the fears and challenges associated with cancer on a very personal level, Ellis said she realizes that cancer does not put her in exclusive company.
"One out of every three people will be diagnosed with cancer," Ellis said. "When I look at the prayer list at church every Sunday, three-fourths of the names are people with cancer. When you get involved in the American Cancer Society and you invest in it, you see how precious life is. It makes you want to live every minute as if it's your last and enjoy those precious moments you have with your loved ones and your friends and family."
That knowledge gives her added resolve, she said.
"I'm going to help find a cure one way or another," she said.
Through her time with the American Cancer Society, Ellis has ascended from local volunteer to statewide coordinator. While her involvement with Relay for Life is strictly on a volunteer basis, she has traveled throughout the state for the organization helping put together other Relay events as a member of the Relay advisory team. She hopes to one day be on the national committee.
"I want to go as far as God has plans for me to go," she said. "This is not about me. This is about what God has planned for me."
In addition to her work with Relay, Ellis is also on the board of Camp Rising Sun, a summer camp for children with cancer.
Through Relay for Life and Camp Rising Sun, Ellis said she has created lifelong friendships and family ties.
"I feel like I have a family (there)," she said. "I have met people and heard their stories. We've cried together. We've laughed together and we've prayed together.
When Ellis first began volunteering with Relay, she said there were approximately five-to-10 teams that first year. At this Friday night's Relay for Life at Columbus High, 59 teams will represent Lowndes County.
"I'm really proud of that," she said.
Ellis said she is looking forward to Friday night's celebration of those who have won their battle and sees it as a time to remember those who have lost their fights. The Survivor's Walk and the Caretakers Walk will be a moment of both joy and tears.
"We will have wheelchairs and golf carts available for those who aren't strong enough to walk the track," Ellis said. "We don't want that to hold them back from coming to Relay."
While she is at the center of it all, Ellis repeatedly states that if it was not for the throngs of volunteers and the support of her husband, Relay for Life would not be possible.
"I pour my heart and soul into this. I couldn't do that if Wayne wasn't on board with me all the way," she said. "It takes a lot of people to pull this off. There wouldn't be a Relay without volunteers."
To Ellis, her role in the event is more than personal.
"This is a God-led thing for me," she said. "Everyone is touched by cancer. It could be a mother, a brother, a child. Through work, school, church. Some way you are touched through a form of cancer. My passion is to help those people."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.