Cancer comes as a thief in the night. An intruder. Uninvited. Not welcomed. A nasty visitor.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are more than 120 versions of the intruder – maybe more – creating an often painful and lonely struggle for those who are visited by cancer.

For the nearly 700 people who gathered at Madison School for dinner last weekend, there was single, serious cause: help cancer patients cope with the disease – financially, emotionally and physically.

Monroe County Cancer Supporters staged the 7th Annual Blow Cancer Away Banquet at Madison School on Saturday night. The event rotates from Monroe City to Paris to Madison. Each year tops the previous. It is the largest and most important fund-raiser of the year for the organization.

This year’s edition set a record, said Gary Yager, president of Monroe County Cancer Supporters.

Yager said the numbers are overwhelming: nearly 700 people packed the Madison School gymnasium to give a free-will donation for a chicken dinner and bid on silent auction and live auction items.

 By the end of the night, they topped last year, dipping into their pockets for nearly $58,000.

“We are so blessed with a community that cares so deeply,” Yager said on Sunday. “It is just so wonderful.”

Monroe County Cancer Supporters was founded in 2009 with a simple goal: provide financial assistance for cancer patients. No needs testing, just a check.

What started at $250 is now $1,000 and includes transportation assistance, nutrition assistance and cosmetic assistance.

Since its inception, Monroe County Cancer Supporters has distributed $516,000 to 395 cancer patients. And the numbers grow each year.

Several cancer patients attended the event to celebrate their fight and give back to the organization.

Hazel Smith of Monroe City is one of those of patients. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. She is now undergoing radiation.

Monroe County Cancer Supports reached out to assist her the week she was diagnosed.

“I am one of the fortunate cancer patients. Having a great team of doctors has helped me to heal well physically after surgery. However, due to the many facets of cancer treatments, the recovery process is not a short one,” she said. “The long recovery process can become very discouraging mentally.  It is during this time that we cancer survivors need the support of family and friends.  As I said, I am one of the lucky survivors. I have had such great support from family and friends to help me during this time.”

Smith said she is grateful for support from Monroe County Cancer Supporters.

“One of the best surprises that has happened to me during my recovery process has been the support I have received from the Monroe County Cancer Supporters group and its members.  
Not only has the monetary help been an unexpected assistance but the caring, warmth and friendliness of its members has meant a great deal to me,” she said. “I would like to commend the caring individuals who make up the Monroe County Cancer Supporters group for their efforts to raise funds for cancer survivors but who are also available to listen and give support when needed.”

Missy Vitt was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. She was doing a routine self-examination when she discovered a lump. That quickly led to a mammogram and surgery and chemotherapy.

Vitt, as Smith, is grateful for Monroe County Cancer Supporters.

Across the room, Terrie McGuiness of Madison was celebrating beating the odds. She was diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago and given one year to live. She is a loyal supporter of Monroe County Cancer Supporters.

And she is beating the odds.

“I am happy every day,” she says with a big smile.

The she points to her T-shirt, saying the slogan sums up her attitude:

“Never underestimate the strength of a woman living with cancer,” reads the shirt.