For Walton County moms Sheryl Evans and Stacey Leddon, next weekend's Cancer Freeze will be one day in which the two women won't have to worry about treatments or medical bills.
Now in it's eighth year, Cancer Freeze has been raising money to donate to local families who are suffering the impacts of what has become the second most common cause of death in the United States.
For Sheryl Evans, being a part of the Cancer Freeze was "a blessing that fell in my lap," she said.
Evans is familiar with cancer, battling cervical cancer in 1997 and breast cancer in 2005, after which she decided to pursue her bachelor's degree in education at University of West Florida. After a routine mammogram in August, Evans was diagnosed with cancer a third time. She juggled her third semester of student teaching with the latest diagnosis and graduated last December going to school in Pensacola during the day and heading over to Woodlands Medical Specialists for treatments at night.
"It has just made my faith stronger," said the third-grade teacher at Mossy Head. "I'm just going to stay positive and strong."
Between school and treatments, Evans hasn't had a paycheck since June. Being a recipient of this year's Cancer Freeze came at the perfect time, she said.
Like Evans, Leddon is no stranger to cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 this past July, Leddon was the same age as her mother when she was diagnosed with the same disease. Because of her family history, Leddon and her sister were aggressive in preventative care, scheduling yearly mammograms from the age of 35.
"It's amazing that the cancer was found," Leddon said. "My type of cancer mimics skin tissue, so it's very difficult to see or even get a biopsy of."
Also similar to Evens, Leddon is an elementary teacher at Paxton Elementary. She postponed reconstructive surgery just so she wouldn't miss preparing her fifth grade class for the FCAT.
"They're a precious group of kids," she said. "They drew pictures and brought me little presents."
Through diagnosis and treatment, Evans and Leddon both credit their friends and family for being strong support systems. Evans has three children and two grandchildren, Leddon has three sons.
"I truly have the easy part," Leddon said. "I just do what the doctors tell me to do. The worst part is watching my family try to fix everything. I've been there with my own mother — you feel helpless. Through it all, they've been fantastic."
At next week's Cancer Freeze, Evans said she hopes she can be a testament to the importance of preventative screenings. Next year she wants to go back, not as a recipient, but as a participant.
"I would love to go back and help somebody else," she said.
It all started with Walton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Caleb Davidson. After losing his uncle in 2002 and grandfather in 2005 to cancer, he had been thinking of ways to raise money for those fighting cancer.
In November 2006, while working on a construction site, Davidson jokingly asked his coworker how much money it would take to make him jump in the cold, Gulf of Mexico. His friend told him that he had once paid to water-ski in cold water before at a fundraiser in Tennessee. Davidson's wheels started turning and just two months later, Davidson held the first Cancer Freeze at Lake Jackson in Florala, Ala., raising $1,000 for the American Cancer Society.
After that first year, Davidson said he received a calling from God, telling him the true purpose of the event — to put that raised money in the pockets of local families.
"God was calling me to benefit individuals," he said. "In 2008, we held the event to benefit Julie Bryan and raised $10,000. When you can stand next to that person, you feel like you really know them."
Over the years the event has grown to benefit multiple people across the region. Last year the event raised $27,000 for three individuals. This year, nine people ranging in age from three to 17 to 52 will be recipients of raised funds. People are generally referred to Davidson who finds it hard to say no to anyone in need.
"The event is all centered around the fact that God wants us to help each other," Leddon said. "It breaks your heart to see the young ones battling cancer, but this event impacts the people in the community who really need the help."
WANT TO GO? The 8th Annual Cancer Freeze starts at 7 a.m. and lasts until 2 p.m, Saturday, Feb. 1, at Lake Jackson in Florala, Ala. To see a schedule of events or for more information, visit www.cancerfreeze.net.