South Carolina

SC State Fair ‘Wall of Hope’ a tribute to breast cancer victims, survivors

The messages lining the walls of the Ellison Building at the South Carolina State Fair are as diverse and powerful as the stories that have inspired them.

With words of encouragement to those battling breast cancer, tributes to others taken away by the disease and prayers of gratitude for the many who have overcome, hundreds have been making their way to the fair’s Wall of Hope since Wednesday’s opening day to show their support – in words.

“In honor of Nanny.”

“Keep fighting.”

“Hope for a dear friend.”

The wall is a focal point of this year’s Pink Fair outreach. As part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the fair is offering several events to increase awareness and early detection of breast cancer – the most common cancer in women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And during the fair’s 12-day run, visitors are being encouraged to post a note on the Wall of Hope in honor or remembrance of someone affected by the disease.

Early response to the wall has been overwhelming.

More than 500 people posted notes on the fair’s opening day, and scores more have shared their tributes since.

“This is powerful,” Colleen Beck said as she gazed at the wall Friday afternoon. “It’s an inspiring wall.”

The Lexington resident knows much about cancer’s reach and has experienced the victories and losses that come with the disease. This week, she posted notes for her mother-in-law and and her best friend’s sister-in-law, who both lost their lives to cancer, as well as for a co-worker currently battling the disease and an aunt, who is a cancer survivor.

State Fair manager Gary Goodman said Beck’s story exemplifies the effect breast cancer has had on many South Carolinians.

“It’s really exactly what we thought when we got involved in this project, that there were very few people who are not affected by this disease, whether by a relative or a friend,” he said. “It’s not just an individual thing. It’s societal.”

Goodman, who made his own show of solidarity with cancer patients by having his head shaved at the fairgrounds Friday, along with Palmetto Health Foundation president Samuel Tenenbaum, said the wall tributes are just one more way people can show their support.

That message is not being lost on many fair visitors, including men, despite the much lower occurrence of breast cancer among that group.

Bob Bessel of Sumter was among those as posted two notes for friends of his and his wife.

“We just want them to know that we think of them, pray for them, support them,” Bessel said.

The first Pink Fair campaign, the first in the nation, is being coordinated with Palmetto Heath, Lexington Medical Center and Providence Hospitals. In addition to the wall, a pink and white resource tent near the fair’s south entrance offers a place to get information and talk with health care professionals about breast cancer. A resource guide developed by the three health organizations with a comprehensive list of breast cancer services and resources offered statewide also is available.

All are resources hoped to foster more breast cancer prevention and pave the way for more success stories in the years to come.

“Miracles happen every day,” Belk said. “And every day (of life) is like icing on the cake.”

The fair continues through Oct. 19.

On a personal note: It is with a special kinship to my dear friend, Janice Hidey – who is bravely navigating the waters of her own battle with breast cancer – and others facing the illness in any form, that I share this story of hope and support. To Janice and all the others, you are not just names on the wall but treasures in our hearts.