Community People

Copenhaver finishes cancer treatment, looks forward to next phase

“Incredibly blessed.”

That’s how Deke Copenhaver describes his life – especially in the past few months.

On Thursday, June 15, the former Augusta mayor rang the bell – the bell signifying that his five rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation for esophageal cancer were complete.

Except for a raspy voice and sore throat Copenhaver, 55, said he’s fared well.

Deke and Malisa Copenhaver. Courtesy Deke Copenhaver.

“I’ve had virtually no side effects,” he said. “My appetite is good, no weight loss to speak of, no hair loss, resting well, keeping up my normal schedule and working out as normal,” he said. “I’m a testimony to God’s strength in our weakness and to the power of prayer.”

When he was diagnosed, he said he told the Rev. Lynn Prather, assisting priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd, that he wanted his experience to glorify God, and he feels like it has.

Throughout his treatments he continued to work out at the Y, where people he didn’t know would come up to him and tell him they were praying for him and that he was an inspiration to them.

He took part in the Georgia Cancer Center’s Unite in the Fight Against Cancer Walk Mother’s Day weekend and raised more than $53,000, surpassing his goal of $10,000.

Copenhaver said he received tremendous support during his treatment, and it also reiterated to him just how important his work with Starts With Us is.

Starts With Us is a movement designed to combat the polarization that 87% of Americans say they are tired of seeing in this country, according to statistics at the organization’s website.

Starts With Us is a “movement to empower millions of Americans just like you — tired of our culture of contempt and energized to foster critical thinking and constructive communication across our lines of difference,” according to its website.

Deke Copenhaver at the Georgia Cancer Center’s United in the Fight Against Cancer Walk. His team raised $53,000. Courtesy photo

It asserts that mainstream media and politicians stoke the fires of division with mainstream media writing more stories about politicians on the extreme ends of the political spectrum rather than ones based on lawmakers who are working in a bipartisan fashion.

Copenhaver, who is also the author of the book The Changemaker: The Art of Building Better Leaders, is one of the founding partners with Starts With Us. Going through the illness reiterated to him how much he needed a support system and how thankful he was that he had one.

It saddens Copenhaver to see division especially based on political differences.

“People cut ties with their support system. I’m like – you’ve had these long-term relationships in your life, but yet you’re going to throw that away to doggedly adhere to some political ideology or some political candidate or elected official that you probably never met and probably never will meet. You’re willing to throw away people — who when something like this hits — are your support system,” he said. “We’re meant to be there to support each other.”

During his political days as Augusta’s mayor from 2005 to 2014, Copenhaver wanted to build bridges not walls of separation. And he’s glad he took that approach.

“I’ve benefitted so much,” he said. “It just shows me how the sea of goodwill I spent nine years building —  it’s still there. Leading through love and compassion is sustainable in the long term.”

He also said he felt his positive end with treatment was a testimony to his own great-nieces and nephews, who have only seen detrimental outcomes with the disease.

He recently spent the weekend in Charleston. S.C. with family including two of his great-nephews. Copenhaver’s oldest brother, their grandfather, died of pancreatic cancer.

“Their only experience was with my brother,” he said. “When they hear ‘cancer,’ it worries them. I wanted them to see me.”

Copenhaver said new things are on the horizon for Starts With Us, and he’s looking forward to what’s next. He feels the work is needed now more than ever.

 “I’m exactly where God needs for me to be,” he said.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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