By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
For as long as Joe W. Dickens can remember, he has contributed to Relay for Life, the largest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. This year, Dickens will make the largest contribution he has ever made and he will do so while battling colon cancer.
The retired Edgecombe County cooperative extension agent and community leader was diagnosed with the dreaded disease in January.
Because of Dickens' humanitarian efforts, as well as his service as the cooperative extension agent for three decades and his leadership contributions in the Edgecombe County Entrepreneurs organization, the Tarboro club hosted a reception in his honor on Sept. 20.
Dickens' family, friends and co-workers filled the room to capacity and showered him with gifts and monetary donations. He was overwhelmed with emotion.
A few days later, while he was still overjoyed by the occasion, the unselfish philanthropist decided to give his $1,360 donation to Edgecombe County Relay For Life plus more.
"My wife and I and the kids sat down and we talked about it," Dickens said. "We said that God has wonderfully blessed us. We wanted to share does fund where other people would be helped also. We tried to figure out what organization will get the most impact with this. We came to the conclusion that Relay For Life will be the best organization. We will round it off to $1,500."
Edgecombe County orchestrates one of the largest Relay For Life fundraisers in Eastern North Carolina. Last year, it raised $165,971.
Dickens' donation will be a jump start for the 2014 campaign. His diagnosis of colon cancer, as well as his sister dying from lung cancer, were major factors in his decision to donate to Relay.
Before he was diagnosed, Dickens didn't appear to have any health problems. He retired from the extension office in 2009. The retirement meant that he would spend the vast part of his time running his own business — Dickens Funeral Home Inc. Living out his childhood fantasy of becoming a mortician, Dickens established his business in 1985. He worked two jobs until he retired. His retirement also gave him opportunities to volunteer in community services and events.
One of his favorites is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Services. Dickens is one of the major players in coordinating the three-day services. Leading up to this year's event, his spirit was riding high as usual until he became ill the day of the event. He was so ill that he spent the night in the emergency room.
"I had never missed one," Dickens said. "If it wasn't for my wife (Ola), I probably would have gone in a wheel chair or something like that. She told me that everything is going to be fine over there. I need to be concerned with my health."
A few days later, Dickens' illness was diagnosed as colon cancer. Although his family and friends panicked, he kept calm.
"I asked the doctor, 'Now you know the problem, what are you going to do about it," he said. "He told me the process and that's what we're doing.
"I have two more (chemotherapy) treatments to take and then they will do a scan. "Then they will determine whether we will continue treatment or whether I will go back every so often for checkups and possible treatment."
The news about the dreaded disease, as well as the therapy to treat it, has not been easy for Dickens. His faith in God and encouragement from his family and friends have lessened the pain of the process.
"I received so many phone calls and visits," Dickens said. "Some were from people who I didn't have any idea would have sent a card or made a phone call. You don't really realize the important of that until you talk to someone who have gone through something like what you have gone through."
Dickens went on and told the story about a call from a lady whose husband had suffered with cancer. As Dickens was telling her his story about the outpouring generosity, she said, 'When my husband was sick, we did have that. That is so sad. It also says to you to, that when you do have it, you should be appreciative of it. Let people know that you're appreciative of it."
"God has been very good to me and I recognize that every day and I didn't just start recognizing it since I've been sick. I recognized it years ago. And I truly believe if I had what the world calls success, it is because I put Him first in all that I try to do. That's why I choose to give back."