Gretchen Barkley, Senior Community Member of the American Cancer Society for northwest Georgia, had been hoping for a good turnout in spite of competition from local football games. Even with that competition, she said the relay drew so many runners and supporters because of how widespread the disease is.
“Probably the number one reason [people come] is because most people are affected by cancer personally, either by their friends or their family, but, it’s hard to find somebody that doesn’t know anybody that’s had cancer that’s gone through this,” she said. “So I think that this touches on people’s emotions to go and help, and to celebrate people who have survived it and people who have [been] lost to it.”
The relay collected $289,548 for cancer research, and Barkley expected to collect more in the coming days. Although most of the money goes to the American Cancer Society, rather than staying in Bartow County, Barkley said it benefits the area through offered services.
“We’ve got a lot of things for people to go and utilize. ... That’s one thing people want to know where the money goes and it doesn’t stay locally dollar-for-dollar. But it’s still available locally for them to go and use through services.
“The research isn’t done in their backyard, unfortunately. So, you know, they’re still going to have access to it and I think that’s just the hardest thing for people to understand.”
Euharlee Mayor Kathy Foulk, who received a clean diagnosis last November after battling breast cancer, said she started her own relay team, Sleepless for Survivors, specifically to raise money for research.
“We need to raise as much money to get rid of this horrible disease as we can. A lot of money goes to the Hope House, the Hope Center, it helps out people that are going through cancer that just need an extra oomph with something. Part of the money stays local, part of it goes for research and we need what stays local,” she said.
Foulk and her team were selling stress-relief dolls and raffling off a number of baskets holding items worth at least $100 a piece. Other vendors and teams were selling food, water, books, painted flagstones or offering face painting in an effort to raise money. Awards were handed out Saturday morning for most money raised by business and non-business teams, along with other awards including best decorated campsite and most team spirit.
However, the relay’s focus was not solely on fundraising. It provided an opportunity for cancer survivors and their caregivers to gather during the survivors’ dinner before the first lap. This was the sixth year a survivors’ dinner was held, with Angelo’s New York Style Pizza and Bistro providing catering. Volunteers, including Cartersville Medical Center staff, acted as servers.
Julia Buffington, a cancer survivor since 1974, thought the dinner was an opportunity to get together with other survivors and socialize.
“I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. We just enjoy it so much. You get to see everybody else and get to share everything with everybody. See, all three of us are all longtime survivors and we’re always together,” she said as she nodded to her two friends.
Rev. Bert Love, who has survived his second bout with cancer for five years, gave an invocation before the survivors’ dinner. He said he and his wife, Wanda, were heavily involved with the American Cancer Society and the relay.
“[We’re] very happy to do it. I think the world of this program that they’ve got here. They do a wonderful job. It goes to a great thing. It goes to curing cancer, finding cures for it, and we’re really deeply involved in that, my wife and I are,” he said.
Love continued, describing who a cancer survivor is and the importance of caregivers.
“It’s a celebration of survivors, and we describe a survivor as anyone who had been diagnosed with cancer yesterday and woke up this morning. That’s a survivor,” he said. “It’s a celebration not only for the survivors but it’s also a celebration and to give thanks to the caregivers. Because without the caregivers we couldn’t make it through it.”
While Love also thought the relay and its dinner were a place for survivors to come together for support, he felt it was a different kind of support not found anywhere else. It was an idea that occurred to him while talking to another cancer survivor.
“But she said, ‘You know, it’s just like a reunion.’ You’re able to share things with other survivors that, if you’re not a survivor, you just don’t understand it. There’s in and out. It’s a fraternity that, unless you’ve been there, you don’t have all the understanding,” he said.