If you’re going
* What: Forsyth County Relay for Life
* When: 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday
* Where: Cumming Fairgrounds, 235 Castleberry Road
* Cost: Free
* For more information, go to www.forsythrelayforlife.org
CUMMING — Ken Hagler, the associate minister at Cumming First United Methodist Church, will never forget the moment he realized what is most important in life.
Fourteen years ago, he was on the phone with his insurance provider’s Ask-a-Nurse Line when the representative told him he needed to immediately hang up and get himself to an emergency room.
“I can’t ever talk about this without getting emotional,” he said. “At the time, my wife was eight months pregnant with our daughter and she was holding our son, who was 16 or 17 months old, at the end of the hallway. And I just realized my whole world was there.”
Hagler, who said he never tires of telling the story of his cancer diagnosis, will get a big opportunity to share it during the Forsyth County Relay for Life, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday at the Cumming Fairgrounds.
Earlier this year, Hagler was named the 2014 honorary chairman of the event, which typically draws more than 1,000 participants to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research and education.
He has welcomed the ample public opportunities to talk about Relay events, with which he has been active since his diagnosis.
“We’ve made it a family thing,” he said of wife, Heather, and son, Logan, now 15, and daughter, Jillian, 14. “We’ve tried to get to a Relay event every year if at all possible.”
Of his diagnosis in 2000, Hagler said he had made the phone call because his right testicle was swollen to about two times the size of his left.
“At that time, I did a lot of cycling, so I kind of laid off that for a week thinking maybe I had hurt something and the swelling would go down,” he said. “But it didn’t.”
After he hung up with the nurse line, Hagler immediately made his way to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, as his family was living in Gainesville at that time while he served as a youth minister at Gainesville First UMC.
Hagler, who was just 28, said the emergency room doctor wanted to perform surgery that day to remove the testicle, but Hagler wanted a second opinion. He contacted a friend from the church who was a practicing urologist.
“He looked at all the X-rays and ultrasounds and said, ‘Yes, this is a tumor and it has to come out,’” Hagler said.
His friend ended up performing the surgery one week after he first went to the emergency room.
It was unclear whether the tumor, which was later found to be the most non-aggressive type possible, had spread to Hagler’s lymph node system. Therefore, he also underwent three weeks of radiation therapy as a precaution.
“During that time, my daughter was born in the same hospital,” he said. “So I’d stay in the room with my wife and change my daughter’s diapers at night and then go down during the day for radiation.
“It was a difficult time, but it was a tremendous time.”
Over the next five years, Hagler continued to be monitored to make sure the cancer did not return. It never did and he was declared cancer-free.
Though he’s been that way for nearly a decade, Hagler said it remains important to him to share his story.
“[Testicular cancer] is something most guys don’t want to talk about,” he said. “But my concern is if there are not some of us men who are willing to step out and talk about it, then we’re not going to help other men, particularly younger men, to grow comfortable with it and talk about self-exams.”
The exams are important since, just as with breast cancer, that is how many cases of testicular cancer are discovered.
Hagler said he has particularly enjoyed his role as honorary chairman of this year’s Forsyth event.
“People love to hear the stories of survivors, and survivors love to be in the presence of other survivors. We find a certain camaraderie in that.”
He said many often tell him that survivors are the reasons they take part in Relay. But whether they’re survivors, caregivers or just supporters, Hagler said everyone has an important role to play.
“People will say, ‘You’re a survivor, you’re the reason we have hope,’” he said. “But I’ll turn that back around and say, ‘You need to understand the only reason that we are your hope is that you are our hope.’
“The reasons we have to fight cancer is because we are hoping for long life and relationships. That’s why we do this … we’re fighting because relationships matter, whether it’s our families or friends or members of our church or our community.”