EAST COUNTY — In 1975, after his diagnosis, a bitter Jim Halley sat stooped behind the wheel of his truck, driving nowhere.
He couldn’t face his cancer.
Thirty-eight years later, in front of a sea Horseshoe Cove RV Resort cancer survivors wearing purple shirts, Halley made a speech that felt more like an official declaration.
He addressed it to cancer.
“I’ve heard you called the king of diseases,” said Halley, an 81-year-old melanoma survivor who drove from Dayton, Ohio, to honor his wife, Kay, who died of breast cancer in 2009 at Horseshoe Cove. “We walk in your shadow of death, but we will not fear you. I have a message for you: We are going to beat you.”
Halley, along with 91 other cancer survivors and other community members, helped Horseshoe Cove — a 470-unit RV Park off Caruso Road — raise more than $33,000 during its fifth Relay for Life Walk March 12.
The money, which benefits the American Cancer Society, came from fundraisers, such as golf cart washes, hot dog sales, a silent auction, a casino night and donations.
Since part-time Horseshoe Cove residents Alan and Linda Hager started the relays at the park in 2004, the community has raised more than $110,000.
Natives of Elmira, N.Y., the couple walked similar relays in their home state and tried to mimic them.
For the first one, which came shortly after Linda Hager’s last chemotherapy treatment on Thanksgiving 2003, Alan Hager had his wife shave his head to match hers, which she hid with a wig and a scarf.
He remembers how, before he shaved his wife’s head, her few hairs would pull from her scalp and stick to the comb as he tried to brush it.
“Now that I shaved your head, you shave mine,” Alan Hager had said to her.
That year, with a four-member organizing committee, the event raised more than $10,000, beating the modest $500 goal.
Nearly 10 years later, at this year’s relay, backed by a 20-person committee, Alan Hager shaved his head again — this time to commemorate the decade since his wife’s diagnosis.
Before a lighted luminary at the resort’s outside pool, Halley, who moved to Ohio after his wife died, reflected on his “curious life.”
From 1998 to 2009, Kay Halley, a retired home economics teacher, ran volunteer sewing lessons for fellow residents of the RV park.
Many of the walkers March 12 wore sweaters and shirts she sewed.
Halley, then an electrical engineer, was diagnosed with melanoma at age 43.
On that day in 1975, Halley scrunched his lanky frame into his truck, without a destination.
He only thought, “Why me?”
Halley stopped at a red light and saw a young boy help a disabled girl on crutches get onto the school bus.
“I thought to myself, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Halley said. “Here I am, having lived 43 years of a good life, and this small girl is suffering. I became apprehensive and curious about what’s next.”
Halley beat the disease while his wife succumbed to her cancer diagnosis at 73 years old.
“Now it’s, ‘Why not me?’” Halley said.
Back inside Horseshoe Cove’s recreation center before the walk, George Quinn, a Canadian snowbird and part-time resident, led the group of cancer survivors in singing “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
They sang out of tune, and many leaned on Quinn for the words, but the chorus grew louder at “Life can be so sweet.”
Next to Quinn, at the front of the room, stood a dry-erase board with the heading “Why we relay.”
“In memory of my father — Joe Stout — died here — 2/6/83,” one post read.
Another said, “5 in our family have breast cancer. All have beat it so far!”
Jack McQueeney, a Horseshoe Cove resident of 10 years, may have said it best.
“In a normal house, you see your neighbors once a day,” McQueeney said. “Here, we see them 10 times a day. We have a strong bond, which makes us walk with pride and hope.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].