SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Melanie Collier, left, whose husband Bob died from esophageal cancer, and Rhonda Smalls, widow of Earl Smalls Jr. who was diagnosed with the same cancer, talk at Saturday evening’s concert benefit at Harley Davidson of Cartersville. Proceeds from the Bands, Bikes and Bikinis event will benefit the Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association. For more information on ECAA visit www.ecaware.org.
At Harley Davidson of Cartersville they believe the best way to gather a crowd on a hot August Saturday is to combine live music, Harley Davidson motorcycles, cold beer and a bikini contest. The second annual Bands, Bikes and Bikinis Benefit Concert kicked off Saturday at 10 a.m. with free live performances from local bands and a firsthand look at the new 2014 Harley Davidsons. The event stretched into the evening with bands such as Mickey James, Mother’s Finest and John Kay with Steppenwolf ending the night. After 5 p.m. tickets were required for admission with all proceeds going to support the Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association.
The event raises support and awareness for esophageal cancer, which the dealership’s owner, Earl Smalls Jr., was diagnosed with before his 2008 death in a helicopter crash.
“The entire reason I do this event is for the few precious moments where I stand on the stage before the main band begins and tell people about the symptoms of esophageal cancer. If I can help just one person, then all this was worth it. Last year’s event was a success with over 5,000 people in attendance throughout the day. At the end of night after I spoke, we had four people come to our tent and say they experience the same symptoms I described. We urged them to see their doctor immediately and request an endoscopy. This type of cancer is very dangerous because by the time you are experiencing symptoms, it’s usually too late. The survival rate is extremely low for those with stage 4. This year alone 18,000 people will be diagnosed and close to that many people will die from this devastating cancer,” said Rhonda Smalls, the widow of Earl Smalls Jr.
In an added effort to give more information, the event organizers placed QR codes on everything that was handed out which relay the symptoms. Some of the biggest warning signs are difficulty swallowing, hoarse voice, prolonged heartburn, or throat, chest or back pain. Men over 40 years old are the most at-risk group, being four times more likely to develop the cancer than women. Acid reflux, drinking hot liquids, smoking or chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, or being considerably overweight are some risk factors.
Smalls, who is a member of the ECAA board of directors, said, “I would like to push for doctors to make an endoscopy part of the checkup most people get at 50 years old. It would be easy and so beneficial to add that to the list of what is done when patients get the colonoscopy. The survival rate of this cancer speaks for itself. If you catch it early you have a chance but if not the chances are extremely slim.”
Smalls said she has spoken to groups here in Cartersville like the Rotary Club to raise awareness but would like more opportunities.
Eric Greene, a 13-year survivor who attended to show support for the cause, said, “Most people just think acid reflux is no big deal. You just pop a Tums and go on. However, if you have had reoccurring heartburn or acid reflux for years, you need to go to the doctor. We need to let people know and that is why I enjoy this event. Rhonda is doing a great job getting out the information. This is a lot of fun and a noble cause.”
For more information regarding esophageal cancer, see ecaware.org. To request Rhonda Smalls as a speaker, please contact Harley Davidson of Cartersville.
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