Student songwriter pays tribute to cancer victims

April 13, 2017

A Troy University freshman performed an original song at this year’s Relay for Life event at the Troy campus on Friday.

Jesselyn Dudinsky, a music industry major from Panama City, Florida, grew up knowing how to play the piano, but only began writing songs four years ago during her freshman year of high school.

“I’d always been very interested in how people wrote songs, how ideas like that came out of their heads,” she said. “I just decided one day that I was going to try to write a song to see how it worked out.”

Dudinsky’s song writing career took on a different tune when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She wrote a song about her father called “Hold Him,” which she describes as her prayer to God as he was undergoing treatment.

Later that year, her older sister, Avalon, who is also a TROY student, began to get involved in Colleges Against Cancer, a support network for the American Cancer Society. The group was in need of a survivor speaker and a performer for their Relay for Life event, and Avalon suggested her family.

After that initial performance, she has written a song for Relay for Life every year. At the recommendation of her sister once more, she performed this year’s song about a local woman’s battle with cancer.

Rhonda Adair, a soon-to-be mother of two from Millbrook, Alabama, was diagnosed with an undetermined cancer in November of 2016. She delivered her baby girl early to begin treatment for a now-diagnosed myoepithelial lesion, a rare and aggressive cancerous tumor that originates in the salivary glands. She passed away just a few weeks ago on her 29th birthday, March 16.

Dudinsky said her experience with her father’s cancer, “wishing it all would just go away,” must have been very similar to how Adair’s oldest daughter, Gracie, felt, and she wanted to write a song to honor them.

Troy University students at the campus Relay for Life event.

Troy University students at the campus Relay for Life event.

“The theme of our Relay for Life is ‘Dreaming of A World Without Cancer,’ so I thought it would be the perfect way to honor Mrs. Rhonda,” she said. “The song is written from Gracie’s view with a lullaby feel to it so Gracie could go to sleep and dream of a ‘world with no sickness, a world with more laughter.’”

In recognition of the theme, each team at this year’s Relay for Life represented a favorite children’s book. Sororities, fraternities and other organizations on campus set up booths designed as “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and “The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar” sold water, snacks or sweets to help raise funds.

Although Relay for Life events are designed to be fun and engaging, there is also a more serious side of the night called the Luminaria Ceremony. Luminaria are white paper bags with lights inside, and the names of those who have won, are currently fighting or who have lost the battle with cancer are written on the front.

A Relay for Life luminaria at the Troy University event.

A Relay for Life luminaria at the Troy University event.

According to the American Cancer Society’s guide on having Luminaria ceremonies, it is meant to be a somber experience that ends in hope.

Charles Nailen, the survivor speaker for the night and a member of the TROY Board of Trustees, and Colin Edwards, a TROY student who lost his father to cancer, both spoke about how hope and their faith in God continue to help them heal.

“My cancer started out as an obstacle, but through the grace of God, it didn’t take long before it was turned into an opportunity,” Nailen said. “I believe with all my heart and soul that my cancer was cured by the healing hand of God.”

After Edwards finished speaking and the candles inside the luminaria bags were lit, Dudinsky debuted “Gracie’s Lullaby.” The night ended with a walk around the path made by the luminaria bags in celebration of life.