A Clinton native is engaged in the fight of her life, and at the behest of a local pastor and with the woman and her family in mind, a caring community is pitching in to assist in any way they can.
Melody Whitaker Hall, the daughter of retired Clinton educator William Whitaker and the late Elmer Whitaker, has been a breast cancer survivor for years. First diagnosed in 2008 with Stage 2 breast cancer, Hall went through chemotherapy, had a radical mastectomy, underwent surgery and radiation and then was in remission.
However, in December 2011, almost two years into remission, Hall received the devastating news that her cancer had returned, again to her left side, but this time more severe. It had spread beyond her chest cavity and, now Stage 3C/Stage 4 estrogen positive breast cancer, would require more intensive treatment.
Since that time, the severity of Hall’s cancer has elevated again to metastatic Stage 4 breast cancer, spreading beyond the breast to other organs in the body. It is a battle that Melody has been waging for years and, with her husband Howard and 4-year-old daughter Lauren Grey by her side, her heart is big and the determination within her even larger.
“I don’t think the average person knows the toll that can take on a family over time,” said the Rev. Thomas Farrow, who pastors First Baptist Church at 900 College St., Clinton. “Any and everything (people can give) just kind of helps.”
Farrow has counseled the family during the toughest of times, but upon talking with Melody, her father William and her brother Billy (William Jr.), Farrow wanted to do more.
“He is a member of my church and he’s been incredibly kind to me since I’ve been in Clinton and I’ve grown to love him and learn more about his family, his son and his daughter,” said Farrow of William Whitaker.
Farrow received a phone call from Billy just a few weeks ago that while Melody’s prognosis was “extremely grim” at this stage, there was the hope to get Melody to the Cancer Centers of America in Atlanta, Ga., where she could get the best treatment available. He asked the pastor for his and other’s prayers and support.
“I developed a passion to try and see what I could do, because I recognized it was a real need,” said Farrow. “On a Sunday after church (last month), I asked people who could to stick around and I shared with them the situation.”
Farrow appealed to the congregation, saying they might not know Melody or her husband, but they knew her father. He asked for an offering and the outpouring that day, and since, has been tremendous.
“I asked if they would be able to give something or talk to somebody who may be able to give something,” said Farrow. “I know every family has been plagued by cancer, so I wanted us to be more deliberate in trying to have an impact on the community — what better way than to give to a cause such as this? By the end of that week, people had brought more than $5,000 to the church that we were able to send.”
Additionally, a youcaring.com site has been established to raise funds to pay for mounting medical bills for Melody.
And, even as she is receiving treatment, her husband Howard has French Polio (Guillain-Barre’ syndrome, or GBS), which causes progressive muscle weakness and paralysis. Experiencing numbness in his feet and hands, Howard was in and out of the hospital and, even though he is now back at work, he has to monitor his own condition while also caring for his wife.
The LAC (Life After Clemson) Outreach — Howard is a former Clemson football player — had raised more than $3,700 for the couple through the site as of this week. The Clemson football team also purchased and delivered a motorized wheelchair for Melody.
Hall left a message at the site recently, expressing her gratitude toward those who have given to them.
“(Howard) Jr. and I would personally like to thank each and every one of you for your generous monetary donations and for continuing to keep us in your constant daily thoughts and prayers,” she stated. “Words cannot express our thankfulness. You have touched our hearts and our gratitude is overflowing. We are humbled by your gifts of love during these most difficult times.”
Farrow said he and others received similar expressions of thanks from Melody and her family for what they have been able to do. Farrow said he hopes the Clinton community can do more.
“It’s an ongoing thing for anybody who wants to do something,” Farrow said. “I would like for the Clinton community to be able to send $10,000. This is not just a First Baptist Church thing as much as it is just trying to champion a cause in the community, period.”
With that cause being the health of a Clinton native, who is the daughter of a man known and beloved in the community, Farrow is hoping people will give.
“A lot of people know Mr. Whitaker and they’re very fond of him, and he lost his wife just a few years ago. He’s been really good to a lot of people. He’s always doing so much for others and never asking for anything. I just thought here’s a wonderful opportunity for us to try to be a blessing back to him.”
Whitaker has been overwhelmed by the support and said his daughter’s spirits have remained high.
“She is in pretty good spirits,” said Whitaker. “I talk with her every day, sometimes two or three times a day, and try to keep her spirits up.”
When Melody’s oncologist at Duke Medical Center referred her to explore treatments at the Cancer Treatment Center in Atlanta, Ga., however, the family knew it would cost for what is the most cutting-edge, progressive treatment patients can get.
“Rev. Farrow and several others have been very instrumental in getting funds for that,” Whitaker said.
The donations thus far, while a large amount have come from First Baptist Church, still other donations have come from people who know Whitaker, friends of Melody, as well as other churches. Donations have ranged from $5 to $500.
“It’s really coming from a lot of places,” said Farrow.
Last year, Hall was featured in a Sampson Independent article highlighting Octobers’ Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She reflected on her fight with cancer, during which she lost mother in March 2008, and just when she thought news could not get worse, was blessed with her baby girl, Lauren, the very next year. She said she fights every day so she can live to see her girl grow up into a beautiful young lady, and said it was the support she has received along the way that has kept her going.
“I am so blessed and thankful to have the support system I have in my life,” Hall said then. “From my immediate family, in-laws, Clinton High School classmates, Bennett College and North Carolina A&T State University college friends, sorority sisters, co-workers, church family and a unbelievable host of friends from all over the country, my support is beyond being measured.
Now based in Gastonia, the support for Melody and her family comes from all around. Hall’s friends from across the country gather in Charlotte each year to support the “Melody’s Divas” team, walking in her honor as part of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Hall has used the disease to speak to others about adversity, learning lessons of gratitude and acceptance along the way.
“Remaining balanced in the face of adversity was its own reward — its own opportunity,” Hall said. “This is a lesson that has truly freed me. My entire journey and experience with cancer transformed my vision of the world and my place in it. I realized I am not alone, I am truly loved.”
Farrow said he will continue to be there for Melody and her family, as well as Whitaker and Billy, who lives in Columbia, S.C. He knows there is an immense amount of love within the family, and said there is just as much love for it from others.
“It’s been extremely difficult, but I would say that at the same time they’ve had an astronomical amount of support coming from her in-laws, her friends, college friends, sorority friends — they’ve really, really come through for her,” said Farrow. “They’re all doing what they can.”
Whitaker said he is humbled by the donations that have come in from those in Clinton and Sampson County and the emotional support others have given.
“The people in her hometown are concerned about her and they care about her,” said Whitaker. “That means a lot.”
Farrow said he intends to continue championing what he and others know is the definition of a worthy cause.
“I believe the Lord deals with us one of two ways — sometimes we can be the change ourselves, other times we know somebody who can help make a change,” the pastor said. “There have been all kinds of acts of kindness that have been demonstrated. Anything helps. I think as we continue to tell her story and by her seeing and knowing what we’re doing, I think that gives her strength to continue to fight, because people are behind her and supporting her all over this state.”
For those wishing to give, checks can be made payable to Melody Hall and all donations, whether checks, monetary donations or gift cards, can be dropped off at the First Baptist Church office at 900 College St. Farrow said he makes contact with the family every week, so those donations will be received by the family that same week.
Those wishing to visit the youcaring fundraising site can do so at www.youcaring.com and search “Melody Hall” for the Howard and Melody Hall fundraising page.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.