A family’s first trip to Disney World is a very special time. In March, 2013, Amanda Ray, along with her husband, Nelson and two young sons made that trip, and it was a great one! But, Amanda was not herself. Of course, like all moms do, she pushed through and tried to have a good time in spite of the pain and the fatigue. Between her preparations to run her first marathon and the extra time she spent studying to complete her doctorate, she thought her symptoms were just everyday exhaustion and stress.
A few months after returning home from their trip, Amanda collapsed and was rushed to the ER where the preliminary tests showed spots on her liver. Nelson and Amanda both were in disbelief that this could actually be cancer. Even when they visited with her primary care physician, her first reaction was disbelief. Upon further testing, it was confirmed that Amanda had stage 4 colon cancer that had now spread throughout her body.
Even facing this grim diagnosis, Amanda kept a strong and positive attitude. “Amanda never thought she would lose the battle,” says Nelson. “Cancer was never a bad word in our house. Our boys knew Mommy was going to fight from the beginning.” And fight she did! Amanda faced chemotherapy treatments every two weeks and even spent Christmas Eve in the hospital.
When the doctors in Nashville felt they had done everything they could do, Nelson and Amanda reached out to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. They began making trips to Illinois once a month for experimental treatments. The trips were exhausting for Amanda, but she was determined. “She had all the fight in her,” says Jennifer Driver, a family friend. “She was so excited and encouraged each time she would arrive home at the airport and was greeted by so many friends and family holding signs and bringing flowers.”
During this time, their family and friends exceeded their expectations. Some donated air miles, others took care of their children, and thousands of people prayed and sent words of encouragement. Jennifer created the Facebook page “Prayers For Amanda Ray” in January, 2014, so that Nelson could easily communicate their journey with everyone who cared. Now, more than 3,000 people follow this page! “People all over the world fell in love with Amanda,” says Nelson. “We even received cards from people in other countries who were moved by her courage and faith.”
Nelson goes on to speak of how this tragedy gave Amanda and their family a worldview of what a community should be.” He speaks of the support given to them by their family at Emerge church of God, as well as the amazing support from the Wilson County school system where Amanda worked.
Perhaps the greatest peace of mind came from the support the Rays received through Sherry’s Run, a local grassroots non-profit that assists cancer patients with everyday expenses. “Sherry’s Run was at the backbone of our whole journey,” says Nelson. “They gave me the peace of mind that allowed me to focus on caring for Amanda.” The support given by Sherry’s Run was not just financial. Through this organization, Nelson and Amanda were able to build a network of friends with other cancer fighters and even built a special bond with the Ronnie Lawson family that has continued to this day.
Amanda was able to attend the Sherry’s Run 5K Run/Walk in 2014. “She felt terrible that morning when she got up, but she was determined to be there,” says Nelson. “Once we got there and started visiting and talking with everyone she had such a great time!” Amanda was even able to take her boys through the large inflatable colon that Lebanon Digestive Services brings out to the event. She used this as a tool to explain what was going on in her body and help them understand her illness.
About a month after the event, Tennessee State University came to the hospice care facility and hooded Amanda in an emotional ceremony in which she received the hard earned title Dr. Amanda Ray. In December, 2014, Amanda was moved home for hospice care and Nelson’s mother moved in to help with the boys. But, Amanda never stopped trying to care for her family. She requested that her hospital bed be placed in the living room so that she could spend time with visitors and be close to her family. Nelson and the boys even watched Amanda pray and share her faith with people coming to see her.
Soon after, her brother came down from New Hampshire and the family celebrated an early Christmas complete with a tree and all of the fixins’. Amanda Ray passed from this life on December 14, 2014 surrounding by those she loved. Her legacy of love continues to show through everyone who knew her. “Mom was always having fun,” says her sons, Eli and Braeden. “She loved to make our halloween costumes and go fishing with us.” The boys, even now, tell about an invisible string that reaches from Amanda’s heart to theirs and how that string will always be there.
Amanda’s legacy will also live on this year at the 12th Annual Sherry’s Run 5K Run/ Walk. Her family and friends have formed a team for the event, cleverly named “Hug Cancer aRay.” Also, the event is being dedicated to her loving memory this year. “When we began discussing the memorial recipient for this year’s event, Amanda was the immediate choice,” says Tonyia Watson, Executive Board member for Sherry’s Run. “Her story has inspired so many around the world and we just wanted to be a part of honoring her legacy.”
Sherry’s Run invites you to be a part of this special event, and help us honor the memory of Amanda Ray.