“I have been involved with Relay For Life about seven or eight years now and this will be my fourth year walking as a team,” Heaton said. “Walking as an individual was never fulfilling. You just show up and walk for a couple of hours and go home. In 2011, I joined Cartersville Uncut’s Relay team and was bitten by the ‘bug’ big time. It was a special night but even more special when my daughter suggested that the next year we needed to have our own team, and that’s when Team Heaton was born.
“This year will sadly be my last year doing Relay as a member of Team Heaton or any team for that matter. It’s getting more and more hard for me to walk like I [used] to. It’s also very stressful being on a team, especially when you are still going through treatment and when your teammates don’t get the support of donations as I do.”
The money garnered on and prior to the Relay For Life overnight event on Friday will support the American Cancer Society, which provides information, offers programs to patients, and funds research for cancer treatments and cures. Months of fundraising will culminate with the benefit in which team members will take turns walking around Cartersville’s Dellinger Park track. In 2013, 101 teams generated $270,111 for the ACS. This year’s benefit is trying to recruit 102 teams and collect $280,000.
Even though Team Heaton already has raised more than $10,000, the group still will generate funds at the Relay For Life event, selling fans and ribbon key chains.
“Being that this will be my last year and the fact I have lost too many friends to cancer this year alone, I came up with the idea of doing a ‘Memorial/Survivor’ tent to honor as many people as I can who are fighting cancer, are survivors or family and friends that lost their battle and are now angels,” Heaton said. “Initially I thought this would be [an] awesome idea. Never did I expect it would be so emotionally draining and very costly. I even have six dogs and one cat that I will honor their memory in the tent. After all, aren’t our animals family?
“We will also be selling fans as the heat is usually stifling, selling cancer ribbon key chains in the colors representing the cancer. My daughter has made these by hand and they are amazing. We also have several other things planned but I don’t [want] to ruin the surprise. I initially set my goal at $4,000 and am currently at $8,600 — the most I have ever raised — and Team Heaton has raised $10,218.28. I really had [hoped] to hit the [$10,000] mark but I am happy with my numbers. I have been the No. 1 ‘individual fundraiser’ in Bartow for four years now and that’s a cool feeling. ... Being involved with Relay Bartow has been very rewarding and fun. I am from Marietta, so when I moved here, it was a great way to meet new people. This small town has got one of the best Relay committees around and I have met so many wonderful people that will be friends for as long as I live.”
Currently facing stage 4 terminal bone cancer, Heaton’s health journey started in 1999 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After his testicle was removed, Heaton underwent chemotherapy and initially received a favorable report.
“I was approaching my fifth year of being cancer free when I found several knots in my neck,” Heaton said. “At first I thought it may be swollen glands or ingrown hair because they didn’t hurt. Because of my previous fight with cancer, I carried the fear in the back of my mind that something wasn’t right. After losing quite a bit of weight, I went to my general practitioner who immediately did a series of blood work and an MRI. I got the dreaded call the very next day and made an appointment for the next day. My fears were confirmed and I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Surgery was scheduled and I had six nodes removed and started chemo immediately.
“... In 2012, I was told that I was NED — No Evidence of Disease — before the radiologist read the report. My family and friends threw a huge ‘Cancer Free Party’ and I saw some friends I hadn’t seen since I graduated from high school in 1980. The happiness and joy didn’t last long. I went in for my checkup almost two weeks later. I wasn’t cancer free, and in fact, the cancer was now in my bones. I was devastated and to be honest went home and drank myself to sleep, crying until I fell asleep and telling God a few things that I regretted two days later when I finally started to get rid of the nasty hangover I had for two days.”
He continued, “I was saved many years ago but have had many bumps in the road throughout this journey and had it not been for my Lord and Savior, my daughter and mother, I wouldn’t be here today. As much as I hate to say this, I have quite a few family members that act like they could care less. It hurts, hurts really bad. So now I have stage 4 terminal bone cancer. It’s not curable but it is treatable. They say I have a 30 percent chance of living five years — that’s hogwash. I only have one physician that I believe and I call him ‘Father,’ my Heavenly Father.”
With Relay For Life also providing a lifeline of support to cancer patients and survivors, Heaton encourages these individuals to take part in its survivor-related offerings.
At the beginning of Bartow County’s event, cancer survivors will be treated to a complimentary dinner in which they will be served by medical professionals from The Hope Center and Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers P.C. While the survivors’ meals are free, they can bring a guest to dine with them for $10. Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, the dinner will be catered by Angelo’s New York Style Pizza & Bistro and consist of spaghetti with marinara and meatballs, salad, garlic rolls, tea or water, and cake.
“For more than a decade, The Hope Center at Cartersville Medical Center and Northwest Georgia Oncology Center have sponsored the Survivor Dinner, serving an average of 500 individuals each year,” said Ginger G. Tyra, director of Marketing & Public Relations for Cartersville Medical Center. “As the regional cancer treatment center in a 10-county area, providing over 4,000 treatments with over 300 new patients per year, we feel this is one opportunity to give back to our community and interact with our patients and their caregivers in a relaxed, casual environment.”
Local organizers also are recruiting individuals to participate in the Survivor Group Lap at 7 p.m. As with the dinner, the initial lap is open to people who are cancer-free, and residents who recently have been diagnosed, are going through treatment or are in remission.
“I think it’s definitely an empowering time,” said Peggy Davis, Relay For Life specialist for ACS’ South Atlantic Division. “The survivor lap is always one of my favorite parts of Relay. Basically you can see ones who have survived cancer from 20 years on to just two months. It definitely gives ones encouragement. They can share stories. It’s basically celebrating them and their fight against cancer. Some are even undergoing treatment right now, and it’s just to honor them and really celebrate them.”
Cancer survivors are encouraged to pre-register for the dinner and lap, by visiting www.bartowrelayforlife.org. Participants also can register for both offerings on site Friday at 5 p.m. In addition to the local Relay for Life’s website, interested individuals can contact Davis at 770-429-1624 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. To learn more about ACS’ services, visit www.cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.