A final night of celebration shined the spotlight on local cancer survivors and the people who have worked to support them for the last 10 years.
More than 200 attended the A2A Survivors’ Dinner at the Ardmore Convention Center Thursday night, an event that recognized cancer survivors, runners who’ve participated in the A2A race and the volunteers that have worked to stage the run, which raises money for the Mercy Cancer Center in Ardmore. Larissa Freeman, manager of business operations for the center, has been attending the A2A for all 10 years of its run.
“Everyone who came through the cancer center, who has trusted us to take care of them, as many of them who could come have attended,” Freeman said. “Our hearts are full. It is going to be emotional.”
The annual dinner started as a pre-marathon pasta dinner for runners, giving them a chance to load up on carbs before the race, but for the marathon’s final year, the A2A organizers wanted the night to be something more.
Mary Robins, a former patient who received all of her treatment through Mercy Ardmore, spoke about her experiences there and shared her story. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, a diagnosis that took some time to secure.
“I panicked,” Robins said. “They had to call my husband and he had to come get me. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t function for a few days. I was very fortunate that I had this group of people who came together and helped me, just like a lot of you had.”
That same year, her brother passed away. She said the day she began her treatment at the cancer center, she felt incredibly alone.
“They saw me kind of falling apart, and they gathered around me and they helped me through that,” Robins said. “They prayed with me, they said ‘we’re here, and we’re going to get you through it.’”
 A2A founder Alison Smalley took the stage as well, explaining the history of the event and thanking local sponsors, volunteers and runners for their years of participating.
“You are our inspiration. You are why we have the A2A,” she said. “I’m a cancer survivor. My husband is a cancer survivor. We need a cancer center here in Ardmore and I’m so proud that you came tonight so we could put faces to this terrible disease, the people who have fought it and inspire us to go on.”
She said most large-scale charity runs have operational costs that eat into the money it raises, but the A2A, which is entirely volunteer-run, is an exception. She stopped to recognize four runners who’ve attended the race all four years.
Andre Moore technically retired as director of the Mercy Health Foundation weeks ago, but he said he wouldn’t miss the dinner and the final year of the A2A, which he’s been part of from the beginning, for anything.
“The cancer center opened in 2011 and it’s served its community very well,” Moore said. “This turn out identifies how important the center is to the community. This, tonight, tells me we’re ending it on a high note.”
Throughout the night, red-clad volunteers, many of whom are Mercy employees, served guests, stopping to talk with former patients and fellow A2A volunteers and visiting with runners. Most A2A volunteers have been participating since the first year.
Robert Chimwaza, a Mercy Ardmore chaplain and longtime volunteer, said he hopes people take one thing away from the night: Hope.
“There is hope here,” Chimwaza said. “Cancer is not necessarily a sentence of death. There are people who have overcome, and some people who have demonstrated how to fight the battle. There are lessons to be learned.”