Former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver has been diagnosed with cancer.  But he's campaigning for a cure and "excited" for the future.

Five people are shown posing for a photo in T-shirts during a walk for cancer research.

Former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, center, has been diagnosed with cancer. He is shown here participating in the Georgia Cancer Center's "Unite in the Fight" walk in Augusta, Ga., on May 13, 2023.

Credit: Deke Copenhaver

Former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver is turning his fight against cancer into a campaign to raise money for a cure.

Copenhaver said he was diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer last month and started treatments last week.

Still, this past weekend, he and his team raised $50,000 for the Georgia Cancer Center’s “Unite in the Fight” 1.5-mile walk.

“Your first question is, ‘Am I going to die?’” he said of his initial reaction to the diagnosis. “But then when my prognosis was good, I thought, 'I’m in a position where I can really do some good with this.'”

Copenhaver said that, so far, he’s had no side effects from his treatment and is able to go to the gym and maintain a healthy appetite.

He also said he draws strength from being part of a larger cause.

“I’ve spent my entire adult life focused on community building, bringing people together on common ground and rallying them around causes that are far greater than any one individual,” he said. “I know God is calling me to do the same thing in this situation.”

His Unite in the Fight fundraising page shows about $30,000 raised, although Copenhaver said he received an additional $20,000 commitment after press coverage on Saturday. The fundraiser goes through Friday.

After that, Copenhaver said he’ll take the momentum from this campaign and continue working with the Georgia Cancer Center in some way.

“I definitely feel like there’s a new book being written in the way my life is playing out at this point and I’m excited to see what the future brings,” he said.

Copenhaver is Augusta’s longest-serving mayor, with 10 years in the office, ending in 2014.

Since then, he has campaigned against polarization in American politics as part of a group called Starts with Us and published a bestselling book, The Changemaker: The Art of Building Better Leaders.