Cancer survivor and Vietnam Veteran Charlie Spain was one of more than 80 Dawson County cancer survivors that braved a cool, rainy night to attend Relay for Lifes annual survivors dinner on April 2.
Spain was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2011.
My V.A. (Veterans Administration) doctors told me there was no question that my cancer was related to exposure to Agent Orange, Spain said.
Spain served as flight engineer on Chinook helicopters in Vietnam 1969-70.
The doctors had to remove my whole prostate in February 2012, and it took me a good year-and-a-half to recover from that.
Spain, 66, said he had no symptoms before he was diagnosed.
I went in for a routine physical, and they did some lab work, and thats when they found the cancer.
He credited his family with helping him survive.
I dont know what I would have done without them, Spain said while grinning at his daughter, Kim England. I was in surgery six hours, in the hospital for seven days, and I had a long recovery period.
His daughter shot a wide grin back.
Hes really important to us, she said. It was a really tough time, but we made it.
Spain lost his wife of 34 years, Joyce Whitmire-Spain, five months before his diagnosis. Whitmire was a 1961 graduate of Dawson County High School and the first to have studied electronics.
We met when I crashed a party she was at, Spain said. She was supposed to be there meeting another boy, but that didnt happen once she met me. We were married three months later, and the other boy never had any hard feelings toward me. We all just got along.
Survivor Shelly Keaton, 44, one of the events main speakers, was diagnosed June 5, 2009 with ovarian cancer. She went from having stage three cancer to stage one cancer after her surgery.
The blessings Ive had and the things Ive learned, Id never trade, she said. I looked at my husband and my son and daughter and said, something good will come out of this, even though the struggle is hard.
She was right. After being treated, Keaton went on to become an oncology nurse and now helps other cancer patients.
That was Gods plan for me,she said.
A survivor is anyone who is living after receiving the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis regardless of where they are in their cancer journey.
More than 100 survivors are registered in Dawson County, according to a Relay for Life brochure.
Participants at the dinner each received a medal-of-honor and were encouraged to wear them at the upcoming Relay for Life event. The medals were made and donated by Troy Lindsey and Tim McDonald of Lanier Technical College in Dawsonville.
Rhonda Stone, a 26-year survivor of cervical cancer, was given special recognition.
Rhonda has walked more miles than anyone else I know, Relay for Life Chairman Roger Slaton told the crowd.
Slaton said 20 teams have signed up to participate this year.
Were going to have cloggers, singers and the ROTC will be there for first lap, he said. Wouldnt it be great to say nobody has cancer? But until then, this organization is going to help you; to provide you with information; to encourage you, so that you know you are not alone. There are many resources and people here to help you.
Dinner for survivors was provided at no charge by Kroger and its employees: Aaron Davis, John Branch, Whitney Guthrie, Sara Carlile, Mary Loy, Don Wyman and Randy Moore.
Donations to Relay for Life support free programming and services for cancer patients such as Patient Resource Navigator, Reach to Recovery, Look Good/Feel Better and the Hope Lodge. More information is available at cancer.org, or 1-888-227-2345
Relay for Life takes place Saturday, April 25, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.