For more information about Relay for Life or the American Cancer Society, contact Suzanne Hendricks at (770) 297-1176, Ext. 29062, or visit www.dawsoncountyrelay.org. The relay will be held overnight May 18 at Veterans Memorial Park.
Cancer survivors and their caregivers gathered April 19 for the Relay for Life Survivor Dinner at Dawson County High School.
Paper bag luminaries at the center of guests' tables testified to the numerous people affected by cancer. "My professor," "my friend," "my mother" and "my son" were among the titles written on them.
While enjoying a dinner provided by Kroger, attendees were treated to a surprise performance from the high school's chamber singers. Several guest speakers then shared their stories of surviving cancer.
Area resident Pam Thompson found out she had pancreatic cancer the morning of Feb. 3. She said she "immediately began talking to God" asking, "Why me?"
"I got the clearest response," she said. "A voice that sounded real gave a response, ‘Why not you?' God showed me that I could serve him through this diagnosis."
Now Thompson admits she actually sees her cancer as a gift.
"I realized cancer has actually been a blessing. It's hard to say that ... but it's really true," she said. "In that time I heard, ‘I love you,' ‘I am praying for you' and ‘God bless you' more than ever before."
She explained that her faith and specifically Bible verse Isaiah 43:10 got her through.
"Now I want to say to each of you tonight that ‘I love you,' ‘I will pray for you' and ‘God bless you,'" she said.
Robin Chapman, a local resident who underwent cancer treatment less than a year ago, followed Thompson's speech.
Chapman told guests she was first diagnosed with lymphoma around Thanksgiving 2010. She described the comfort she felt when the American Cancer Society immediately called the next day to offer support.
"I thanked God for the American Cancer Society and that they were there for me," she said.
She showed photos of her treatment through Emory Healthcare and praised the society for allowing her to stay for four months at its Hope Lodge in Atlanta.
Suzanne Hendricks, community manager for Dawson and Forsyth counties Relays for Life, said stories such as those from Thompson and Chapman inspire survivors, caregivers and those in remission.
Hendricks said she looks forward to planning the dinner every year.
"I think [it] is such an encouragement to [survivors] because they are surrounded by others who have gone through the same things," she said. "They have the opportunity to share their stories, fellowship together and encourage one another."