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Cancer survivors attend annual Relay for Life dinner
2015 Relay for Life of Hall County is May 15-16
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ERIN O. SMITH | The Times Todd Sigmon, the executive director of Oncology for the Cancer Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, speaks about the statistics of cancer during the Relay for Life annual survivor dinner at Gainesville First United Methodist Church on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. This year's Relay for Life of Hall County will be on May 15-16 from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus track.

2015 Relay for Life of Hall County

When: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. May 15-16

Where: University of North Georgia Gainesville campus track, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood

Contact: Rena Pendley, American Cancer Society 770-297-1220

More info: www.relayforlife.org/hallga

 A teenage girl and an elderly man may not have much in common.

But they do if they’re both cancer survivors.

Survivors from across Northeast Georgia were guests at the annual Relay for Life Survivor Dinner on Tuesday at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.

The longest survivor in attendance had gone 63 years without cancer. Another had just been diagnosed a week ago.

“Don’t you love life?” asked guest speaker Harris Blackwood, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and Times columnist. “Isn’t it great though?”

Blackwood spoke Tuesday about his childhood in Social Circle and his experiences watching his mother, father and brother battle cancer.

“I haven’t been where you are,” Blackwood said to the survivors. “But I’ve been beside someone who has. I lost my father, my mother and my brother to cancer. I want it to come to an end.”

Todd Sigmon, executive director of oncology at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, was also guest speaker at the event Tuesday. He said one in two men will develop a form of cancer in their lifetime, and one in three women will as well.

“Look around the room — we’ve all got friends, neighbors and family,” he said. “We’re all going to be affected by cancer, if not personally then a friend or family member. It’s not a disease that hides.”

Sigmon also discussed the causes of cancer. He said it is known that genetics are one factor, but lifestyle factors play a role too, including smoking tobacco, diet, exercise, obesity and more.

But Sigmon also said there are increased rates of survival over the years, thanks to improved health and technology, earlier diagnoses and better treatment.

He said while there seem to be more diagnoses, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think what’s happening, and I’ve talked to some doctors about this, is just that we’re living longer,” he said. “Medicine has improved our lives and people are living longer. For the most part, cancer is a disease of aging. Children can and do get it, but a lot of times it’s affecting people that are older. If we’re living longer, we’re going to see more people with cancer.”

The 2015 Relay for Life of Hall County will be 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. May 15-16 at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus track.

Rena Pendley, American Cancer Society community manager, said there are currently 96 teams signed up for this year’s relay, but it’s not too late for interested teams to join.

Blackwood said while he did lose his family members to cancer, he sees the improvements in cancer diagnosis, research and fundraising like Relay for Life as “a blessing.”

“I wasn’t as fortunate with them,” he said of his family. “But I look forward to the day we don’t have to have this event.”

For more information, contact the American Cancer Society office at 770-297-1220.

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