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For cancer patients and survivors, caregivers offer support
Hank Parker helps daughter Miley, 1, stroll through the yard of their Banks County home Wednesday evening. Being outside is one of Miley's favorite activities.

Relay for Life of Hall County
7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday
Where: Road Atlanta, 5300 Winder Highway, Braselton

Little Miley loves to run, play and laugh. Eddie makes time to travel and enjoys time with his children and grandchildren. Heather teaches language arts to sixth-graders and loves to spend time at the beach.

What do they all have in common? They are cancer survivors.

Plus, through all the radiation, chemotherapy treatments and surgeries, they all had to learn to lean on family and friends during their sickness.

"I wouldn't have made it through what I went through without the caregivers," said Heather Hayes, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. "You know, I could not imagine doing it. And it was not just my mom and my dad, it was my extended family, it was my school, it was my church friends, my friends."

The patients have the caregivers to lean on, she said, which seems to lessen the stress.

"I think it is easier for the patient than it is for the caregivers because we allow them to take care of us," Hayes said. "I knew I was going to be sick; I knew I was going to be bald."

For the past few years the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of Hall County has honored these caregivers who give extra time and support to help loved ones in their time of need.

"We have a theme, Fast Lane to a Cure, but for the past couple years (honoring caregivers) has a been focus," said Ron Combs, local chairman of Relay for Life. "I am a caregiver, my daughter is a survivor and I know firsthand what caregivers go through. And talking to my hundreds of friends who are survivors, caregivers are absolutely crucial to the process."

Miley Parker's parents served the main role of caregivers, but family and friends were always nearby to lend a hand. The Parkers' Sunday school class at Lakewood Baptist made dinners for the family, and friends had prayer chains.

Hayes had her school, students included, to keep her going on rough days.

"Students were fabulous, I told them during treatment," Hayes, 38, said.

So she decided to give a little something back to her inspirations.

"I told them when I was going to shave my head ... a lot of people told me that it was easier to just shave it myself and say I'm going to do it before you can do it to me," said Hayes, who shaved her hair into a mohawk at a student's request. "I tried to make it fun, which sounds strange to make cancer fun."

Parker said all the caregivers involved with her daughter were her lifeline in such a stressful time.

"They are very important, those first few days when you have just heard about it," she said. "It meant so much to me, every person that reached out to us."

Oddly enough, Hayes and Parker had been involved with Relay for Life long before they were touched with the disease.

"I was a team captain here for about six years," said Hayes, who is an honorary chairwoman for Relay for Life this year. "My grandmother died of cancer when I was in middle school. I had known people here and there that had cancer but I didn't do it for that reason. And then in October '07 my uncle died of throat cancer and then Mother's Day of '08 my other uncle died of bone cancer, so for those two reasons last year I was real into it. ... Then two months later I was told I had cancer and it became personal."

Parker, the mother of 1-year-old Miley, also participated in Relay for Life with Chestatee High School before her little girl was diagnosed with retina blastoma, which is cancer of the retina.

"At every school I had worked at I had always contributed ... I've only ever been to one Relay for Life and this year will be the second," said Parker, who is a media specialist at Chestatee High.

Eddie Martin, 60, is a 10-year leukemia survivor. He said Relay for Life is important to him because his medication was created by funds donated by the American Cancer Society.

"I came down with leukemia (chronic myelogenous leukemia) in 2000 and my wife (Dinah Martin), she did everything for me," Martin said. "I didn't know I was sick until they told me, but once I got on chemo and everything I went downhill real quick. I didn't have a relapse but I try everything - I want to stay ahead of it."

Even with the experimental treatments and great doctors, Martin said his wife of 40 years was the biggest help for him.

"I still get choked up when I talk about it," Eddie said. "I couldn't have made it if it hadn't been for her. She took care of me, she took me to the doctor, she made me take my medicine at the right time and, looking back at my situation and the situation of other people that I know that have cancer ... it's worse on them than it is on the person that has cancer."

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