"I enjoy the camaraderie. I like just being around the people, talking to them, just the togetherness that we share," Morgan said about Relay for Life, especially its first lap and complimentary dinner that celebrates cancer survivors. "I feel like it's necessary that everyone should get involved in it because you never know when the situation may hit you or someone else in your family.
"It's indeed a good program, and it is an opportunity for people to share with one another what they think about [their] situation and for us to continue to push on and try to get people to go and get themselves tested so they won't wait too late to find out about this disease. That's what almost happened to me."
In September 2002, Morgan was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 53 when a routine screening provided by Cartersville Medical Center detected abnormal polyps.
"When I found out, my doctor didn't give me a chance to think about it much because he told me that I had it, but then he said, 'But there are some things that we can do about it,'" said Morgan, who also is a Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer for the Bartow County Sheriff's Office. "But even though he said that, during that time when people mention the word 'cancer,' automatically you would dig your grave. And that's the feeling that I had because I was very lonely when I came home. I was by myself and I had to pull over to the side of the road because tears came down because I thought that I was going to lose my family. That's what I was really concerned about.
"But, I'm OK [now]," he said, adding he was declared cancer free after 11 polyps were removed in December 2002. "... I've been blessed each and every day. Every morning when I wake up I say, 'Thank you for those that know me and prayed for me and thank you for those that didn't know me and still prayed for me.' I will always be there for them. I just praise God every day that I went forth and got checked and I'm hoping that every man will go and get themselves checked also because cancer does not discriminate and anybody can catch it at any time."
His first involvement with Relay for Life was in 2003 and due to the proximity to his battle with cancer, the event was an extremely moving and supportive experience.
"It was very emotional, especially seeing the number of people that have the disease," he said. "That made me really feel close to them as brothers and sisters because I knew [there was] somebody out there that cared. [It] was very interesting because you ran into people that you didn't know and you ran into people that you did know that you didn't know had the disease. It was good to be able to share some of [our] ideas."
The Relay for Life event scheduled for Friday and Saturday will cap off months of fundraising for volunteer team members. So far, about $130,000 has been generated to assist the American Cancer Society's efforts in preventing and detecting cancer, and ultimately finding a cure for the affliction. Ninety-nine groups also have registered for this year's benefit, in which team members will take turns walking around the track at Dellinger Park in Cartersville.
At the beginning of the event, survivors will be treated to a complimentary dinner outside the track, in which they will be served by medical professionals from The Hope Center, North Georgia Radiation Therapy and Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers P.C. From 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, the meal will be catered by Barbecue Street Restaurant and will consist of a barbecue chicken or barbecue pork plate with coleslaw, beans, a cookie, tea and water.
While the survivors' meals are free, they can bring a guest to dine with them for $10.
"We become family," said Ginger G. Tyra, director of marketing and public relations for the Cartersville Medical Center and The Hope Center. "Though we may begin as medical care providers and support to cancer patients, those relationships quickly evolve into friendships and extensions of our family. We certainly celebrate the victories together and feel the pain when a life is lost to cancer. The Survivor Dinner at the Relay for Life is just one small way we can serve our courageous friends that we have had the honor and privilege to treat.
"Our physicians and staff look forward to the annual event and enjoy serving dinner to their patients. The Relay for Life is a special night that allows the entire community to celebrate and honor cancer survivors and also remember our friends who succumbed to the disease."
Local organizers also are recruiting individuals to participate in the Survivor's Lap, which will follow the opening ceremony Friday 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.
Cancer survivors are encouraged to pre-register for the dinner, by visiting www.bartowrelayforlife.org. Participants also can register for the dinner and Survivor Lap on Friday at 5 p.m. In addition to the local Relay for Life's website, people can contact the event's co-chairman Wes Moore at 770-547-0325 more information.