Laura Richards of White Hall was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 52. Four years and eight chemotherapy treatments later, she's a cancer survivor with a message.

Laura Richards of White Hall was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 52. Four years and eight chemotherapy treatments later, she’s a cancer survivor with a message.

“Chemo is going through hell for a Heavenly cause,” she declared Thursday night at the Jefferson County Relay for Life kickoff rally at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. “I feel so blessed to have survived cancer.

“Cancer helps you learn about the power of prayer. Cancer helps you feel the power of prayer. Cancer allows you to experience the awesome power of encouragement.”

Crediting her husband, Rev. David Richards, family, friends and medical team for the bulk of her recovery, she also reflected on the energy she received from unexpected sources — complete strangers.

“People I had never met or seen before would realize I had cancer and they would offer words of encouragement,” she related. “I took that into my heart, and it helped tremendously.”

She now returns the kindness whenever presented an opportunity, and hopes that others will make the practice customary for themselves. She said just a “few kind words” can lift a cancer victim’s spirits and boost his or her will to combat the disease.

Richards shared several photographs from her illness and treatments, laughing at herself while illustrating the strength of finding humor even in stressful situations.

Richards and other survivors were saluted, setting the stage for the rally’s chili cook-off, in which fundraising teams sold bowls of their chili creations to warm up the crowd for the May 4 overnight event at Watson Chapel High School.

The annual Relay for Life is a community celebration in which individuals and groups camp out, barbecue, dance and take turns walking around a track, relay style, to collect monies toward finding a cure for cancer. Participants utilize the effort in honoring current cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and cancer victims. Cancer can strike persons of all ages, and the Relay for Life attracts young and old. Among the event’s participants will be 9-year-old Faith Puddephatt of Pine Bluff, a seven-year cancer survivor and daughter of Bryan and Heather Puddephatt.

The youngster, dressed as Batgirl in keeping with the kickoff’s “Survivors Are Our Superheroes” theme, lost part of her right leg to cancer while only 2. But a prosthetic device enables the child to walk.

Obviously not handicapped by shyness, Faith offered that she thinks God permitted her to develop cancer because He knew she is brave, and then allowed to survive because, “Now I can help others if they get cancer and get scared.”

Referencing Richards’ remarks on words of encouragement, she requested that her friend, Zach Ramsay of Texarkana, be mentioned in the meeting’s coverage.

“He was a teenager when we met, and he had cancer, too,” she said. “I remember that the first time we met, I knew we were going to be best friends.

“He told me not to be afraid and to suck it up and keep going. He was the greatest person I’ve ever met.”

Ramsay recently lost his battle with the disease. “But I won’t forget him,” Faith promised.

For more information on the Relay for Life, telephone Leslie Humphrey of the American Cancer Society at 870-850-0031.