The Methodist Activity Center at Gainesville First United Methodist Church was filled with tables, balloons, music and cancer survivors on Tuesday, April 17, as the American Cancer Society honored those survivors with a Colors of Cancer Survivor Dinner Celebration.
“We used to do the survivor dinner at (Relay for Life), but it’s kind of hard to do that with everything going on,” said Rena Pendley, senior community development manager with the American Cancer Society “But because this is such a different atmosphere, it gives them two different celebrations, and they really do like the fact that this is a sit-down dinner, kind of like a night out for them.”
The annual event is a chance for survivors and their caregivers to meet other survivors and caregivers as they’re put at tables with groups of people they typically don’t know. Some have been going to the dinner for years, but for others, it’s their first time.
“Now I want to come mainly for the people who this is their first trip,” said Joan Jackson, 74, a Gainesville resident and 12-year melanoma survivor. “I remember how it was the first time for me, thinking I want to see people who have survived a long time. So now, I want to be here for other people that this is their first event, because they need to see that people do survive different cancers and live a good life and continue on.”
Jackson was just one of many cancer survivors at the event, which featured a photo booth, dinner and a couple of comedians for entertainment. She likes to attend the dinner each year because she gets to meet new people every time and celebrate their progress. She said, “it’s always a celebration after you survive.”
David Waldrip, 70, survived esophageal cancer almost 16 years ago and has been going to the dinner ever since. He said he’s gotten to the point where his doctor actually has him speak to and encourage other cancer patients, showing them they can survive, too.
Waldrip’s wife and caregiver, Brenda, said it’s emotional for her when she talks about the dinner and the walk around the track at Relay for Life. She said her husband has had to give lots of testimonies at their church, Freedom Tabernacle, in Cumming. But she said it’s worth it if it encourages even just one person.
“You just start meeting new people,” Brenda Waldrip said. “And it puts it into perspective of why we’re here and that it’s another celebration.”
And it’s a celebration that will be continued in May with Relay for Life.