Corpus Christ Mayor Nelda Martinez recalled caring for a dear friend in her final days as she lost her battle with breast cancer. In those final weeks, Martinez and others looked after FIRST FRIDAY member and former mayor, Mary Rhodes at her Corpus Christ home.

“I know you too have been touched in some way by breast cancer,” she said looking out to a crowd of more than one hundred Friday at First United Methodist Church on Shoreline Boulevard.

Many in attendance remembered Rhodes as an active member of FIRST FRIDAY, who went on to sponsor a charity walk for breast cancer. Martinez encouraged others to continue her legacy.

“We’re here to spread the good news of making sure we are proactive and get those mammograms,” she said with a smile.

For more than a decade, the morning service has served as an annual tribute to those who have succumbed to breast cancer. But it also remains a cheerful celebration of those who are still with us. Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Jewish faiths were all represented.

It’s hosted each year by FIRST FRIDAY, a grassroots organization made up of women whose purpose is to knockout breast cancer through education, self-breast examination, and free screening mammograms for women who have no financial resources. The group’s efforts and partnership with CHRISTUS Spohn have grown to help nearly 1,000 women in the Coastal Bend each year.

Kelly Gilmore, a Corpus Christi attorney, spoke words of hope to those in attendance of her own struggles with breast cancer after being diagnosed 17 years ago.

“Life is life, and it’s not all been a bed of roses,” she said. “But I know that it’s in God’s hands.”

Since her diagnosis at the age of 33, Gilmore has travelled the world, run a marathon, watched her son graduate high school, re-married, lost 80 pounds and more – things she never thought possible as a cancer patient, she said.

“I don’t want to remember the doctors and the drains,” she said looking out to other cancer survivors. “I want to remember the friends, family and flowers I received.”

Gilmore encouraged those in the audience to share their experiences in the community and push for early detection through self-examinations and mammograms

Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal too spoke of his battles with a debilitating immune-system disorder the past three years. For more than a year, Neal was unable to speak and gained more than 40 pounds.

What helped him through those trying times were the simple things, he said, things like faith, family and hope.

“It’s the person who stops you in the grocery store and says ‘don’t worry, I’ll pray for you,’ that can make all the difference,” he added.

One-by-one after the service, attendees approached the front of the church to light a candle and say their own prayers for those still fighting breast cancer or those who have since passed on. Later, the group swapped stories and enjoyed fellowship over a complimentary breakfast, sponsored by Radiology and Imaging of South Texas, in the church hall.

While the battle against breast cancer continues, FIRST FRIDAY members and the event’s guest speakers hope the annual service will recharge community members to focus on education and winning the war against the devastating disease.

“Help us God to trust in your promise that all has meaning, that all is worthwhile,” said Msgr. Louis Kihneman of the Diocese of Corpus Christi.

Reverend Gloria Lear of First United Methodist Church closed with a prayer that included physicians, nurses and others caring for patients with cancer as well as those researching ways to fight the disease.