This time each year, boxes fill the offices of the American Cancer Society in Tyler from floor to ceiling boxes.
People can be seen running around, taking phone calls and going to meetings, stuffing gift bags and finalizing details.
It is all part of the preparations of the Cattle Barons' Gala. The Gala, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a fundraiser for American Cancer Society, takes places on Saturday.
After being asked two years ago to oversee the Gala, they were eager to jump in and get started.
They all graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in the '90s — all within a year or so of one another — and have remained friends.
They say all the work is worth it because the fight against cancer is near and dear to them.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly two million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year. Nearly everyone will deal with the disease through family and friends.
LIVING WITH A MEMORY
Mrs. Denson remembers her mother as a go-getter with a servant's heart, even while parenting seven girls. While she was enjoying her senior year at Lee, Mrs. Denson's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I think as a teenager, it's not reality,” she said. “And so you just act like a teenager.”
Luckily, her mother caught it early with a self-exam, and doctors told her the mass would probably not have been picked up on a mammogram.
From there, her mother went a full four years with a clean bill of health. While she was attending Brigham Young University as a senior, Mrs. Denson learned that her mother's bout with cancer had returned with a vengeance and had also consumed her liver.
Throughout her struggle, her mother wore scarves to cover her head instead of wigs because “they weren't her thing,” said Mrs. Denson.
“She was bound and determined that cancer was not going to beat her, and think that's why she lived as long as she did.”
She fought her disease with chemotherapy for over two years but lost her battle in February 1998 while Mrs. Denson was expecting her first child.
While it is still difficult after 14 years, Mrs. Denson channels her mother's strength and will to help others in her everyday life. She is involved with the gala to honor her mom's life and legacy.
“She would do anything for anybody, and that's how I've tried to live my life,” she said. “If I am capable of doing it, I will do it.”
THAT EXTRA PUSH
In September 2011, she lost one of her best friends to a 21-month fight with liver cancer. Still heart-broken, she remembers the feelings of seeing her friend in such a terrible state.
“I had never seen someone go from a strong, healthy person to a shell,” she said. “It's definitely a changing experience to see that.”
Mrs. Burke said her friend's passing was the “nail in the coffin” that motivated her even more to help the American Cancer Society find a cure for the disease.
“I'm doing this so that my children don't have to watch me do that or watch somebody they love go through that.”
A VOLUNTEER SPIRIT
“It's been something that's always been important in my family,” she said. “We have a long history with cancer, and it was one of the things that was most important to me to be able to give back and help them find a cure.”
As children, both of her parents lost one of their own parents to cancer. At age 4, Mrs. Pickett's mother lost her father to colon cancer, and her paternal grandmother passed away from breast cancer.
The older she became, Mrs. Pickett understood the seriousness of cancer as more people she knew were touched by its effects.
“It became something that stayed in the forefront of my mind,” she said. “It's something that I never wanted to see anybody else go through.”
Since then, she has dedicated much time and effort into the American Cancer Society as well as the Tyler Cattle Barons' Gala.
In 2009, her mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which was treatable. Now, her mother only goes in every few months for check-ups, but thoughts of the potential outcome to her mother lingers.
“Any cancer scare is truly a scare. I think it's the fear of the unknown.”
She said that she caught the “volunteer bug” from her mother's helper influence and strength.
“As a little kid, to me she was everywhere and volunteering everywhere,” she said. “That's where I got this volunteer spirit that I have.”
BEYOND THE PARTY
“To me, it's not about a party in the pasture,” said Mrs. Denson. “It's about the money that's coming in to help the research and to help further the goal of finding that cure.”
The event will feature an educational component to raise awareness and research for pediatric cancer, and everyone will walk away from the event with a little education, said Mrs. Pickett.
While all three are raving about the entertainment line-up this year — Eli Young Band headlining along with Bellamy Brothers — they will never forget the reason for the event.
“This is more to us than just a party,” Mrs. Burke said. “It's our heart and our family and our future. We want that to carry forward through the party.”