When two-time breast cancer survivor Rita Thomas woke up on her 56th birthday last month, the last thing she thought about was to get a present.
"Instead of thinking about what kind of gifts I'm going to get for my birthday or who would take me to dinner, I've just started getting all these ideas about breast cancer awareness lunch," she said.
With just one month left to plan, the 13-year-old survivor called on her friend and five-year survivor, Karen Lester, to put the plan into action.
"I sat down in my bed and immediately started writing Karen, I said," You think we can do that? She said, "I think we can," Thomas recalled.
The two saw the vision come to life on Saturday, when they held their first annual Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon, not just to give, but also a platform for survivors to celebrate life, share their journey, and share others to clear up the terrible disease.
Lester said about two years ago, they did T-shirts, collected some women and took pictures. Thomas was moved to do something this year.
"That was Rita's vision that God put in her heart," Lester said. "And I just took it and ran with it, and it was so great that everyone we asked said yes, everyone donated."
Thomas said that lunch was the result of the need to get support for breast cancer survivors and survivors in the area.
"We do not really have a place where women can get together and feed each other, love each other, encourage each other," she said.
"Karen and I want the women from Marshall, Texas who have suffered breast cancer," said Thomas. "We wanted to do something where people know there's a network, you're not alone in this thing."
Those who shared their testimonies on Saturday were the 27-year-old Marshall mother and breast cancer survivor Tempestt Olivia Ventura, 45-year-old survivor and music teacher Mary Lou Taylor; and dr. Carol Hicks, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Wiley College, who is in the middle of a fight. Keynote speaker was Hallsville resident and mother of four, Sharon Ventimiglia.
The "Gospel Singing" sibling group "The Turner Sisters" inspired guests to a special tribute "Lord It was You, Pulling Me Through" and 10-year-old survivor Wilette Williams blessed the guests with a special praise to the song "Better" by Gospel Artist Jessica Reedy. "
"We have strength, strength, and hope in the room," Thomas said, looking at the more than twelve women who were either survivors or just fighting.
"We do not present our face of grief, but we present the face of hope," she said. "There is something to say about what you are going through, that gives (hope) to other people who are facing what you are facing."
The coordinators thank everyone who has made the day special by donating their time and services.
"We did not really have to pay for anything, but the food and then the caterer donated his time, the photographer donated his time," Thomas said, the photographer was Dale W. Smith and the caterer was her husband, Tony Thomas.
The decorator, Cecilia "CeCe" Turner, of Elaborate Designs, also donated her services, and Tamika Hill donated cupcakes.
"Everyone we called had the motto, Yeah," Thomas said.
She said that they were also blessed to book the Elks Lodge after arousing so much interest in the event from the people who saw the announcement on Facebook.
"We first had the fire station, they could only hold 55 people, our response on Facebook was overwhelming, people said I wanted to come in. I was like God, you gave me that vision, what will we do, because we have space goes out? "
She said a lady had asked her if she had ever considered Elks Lodge and things had developed from there.
"It's amazing how we separate worlds from each other, but we're experiencing the same things," Thomas said of those who were affected by the disease.
That's why her vision for a support group is important.
"People know that there are other people who go through the same thing and we do not talk about it, that's our vision for this type of group," Thomas said. "I am so excited to see the number of people coming today because we really want to continue this."
All program participants thanked the coordinators for allowing them to share their journey.
"This Monday I'm going to hit the radiation machine for the first time and then I'll go through radiation for the next six weeks," Hicks said. "I have prayers from the south of Texas, I have them in Tennessee, I have a lot of prayer fighters, especially here in Marshall, who are working to make it all happen."
"I was just lucky that the chemo collapsed so much," she said, thanking her support system as well.
Taylor, a 45-year-old survivor, was diagnosed when her daughter was 9 years old. On Saturday, she praised God for allowing her to share her story in the presence of her family – her daughter, her granddaughter and her newborn great-grandson – who represent three generations.
"I'm just in tears, but I'll try to survive, it's been a beautiful 45 years," Taylor said. "I'm so thankful that I saw the insight of self-examination, so I survived.
She said she was only 29 years old when she felt a hard lump the size of a marble, which led to her diagnosis and recovery.
"I'm just so thankful for this opportunity to share my story," said Taylor. "I want you to know that self-examination is the key, we need to know our bodies."
"I am a breast cancer survivor and I am very proud to say that because I have been blessed for 45 years," she added. "I'm so thankful, I love life."
Ventimiglia, who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 34 in November 2016, said her struggle revealed her, her purpose in life.
"During my trip, I started my own organization" Team Venti "," she said. "I pretty much designed my own design, designed my own logo, and made wings because it's a protective gel for me – many people think of breast cancer as death, but for me, my organization is hope.
"Almost all of my income goes to breast cancer families," Ventimiglia said.
So far, the organization has given families more than $ 2,000 to help them through their breast cancer fight.
"The thing is, I always said: 'What's my intention?'" Ventimiglia said. "I went to school, Wiley, for criminal justice."
But, "that's my intention – to promote people who go through cancer, to be a voice and let people know that it's okay," said Ventimiglia.
She said that her trip had even led her to sell life insurance now. She has met so many other breast cancer survivors along the way and even has the chance to offer a cancer policy as an insurance agent to help others.
"All my journey, I put it on Facebook to let people know that it's okay to go through things, that it's not the end of the world," Ventimiglia said. "And for me to be here, my whole attitude is different, I smile, 24/7, I made Chemo laugh, that's how I deal with things.
"I'm grateful and grateful to be here because some people did not make it," she said, announcing that she was grateful for the moment to ring the famous bell in May 2017, marking the end of her scary battle ,
"God has given me the opportunity to help others by changing my process to bless other people," said Ventimiglia.
"I only recommend it to everyone here," she said.
She advised people to give up, no matter what process they face.
God will turn your test into a testimony, "said Ventimiglia as she concluded with the Bible verse," Preacher 9:11.
Thomas thanked Lester for walking side by side with her to make lunch a reality.
"She was so involved in doing the legwork," said Thomas, a professor at Jarvis Christian College. "I do not know anyone with whom I would rather share this trip and have something with Karen Lester, because she is such a sweetheart, we worked it out together."
"It's my inspiration, it inspires me," Lester said of Thomas, her former college professor.