Nearly an hour before the fifth annual Cures for the Colors survivor dinner was scheduled to start Thursday evening, the parking lot at First Pentecostal Holiness Church began filling up and so did the fellowship hall.

More than 700 turned out for this year's event, requiring an overflow room for the capacity crowd.

"It's one of those events that I look forward to every year, to be able to get together and celebrate this journey and the survivors," said Dr. Jason Boyd of Southeastern Medical Oncology Center, sponsor of the dinner along with Wayne UNC Health Care and Southeastern Cancer Care.

His colleague at SMOC, Dr. Samer Kasbari, was master of ceremonies for the occasion.

Looking out over the crowd, he said, "This event is only getting bigger and more beautiful.

"I'm glad to see more and more hands (go up), which means more survivors, more determination."

Not everyone's journey had the same outcome, prompting him to pause for a moment of silence to remember those who lost the battle fighting cancer.

Star Baker Merritt was among the fortunate.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago, in 2004. Her treatment included 12 rounds of chemotherapy, as well as care from SMOC and the support of her family and church group.

"And I helped a lot of people because of working at the Health Department, people when they got diagnosed with it would come and talk to me," she said. "It humbles you because I know I have been through it. I look at other people that are going through it, my heart goes out to them because I know what they're going through."

Today she calls herself a very blessed woman. Out of the ashes, she wound up meeting her husband, Chuck Merritt.

"My wife died of cancer," he said, recalling the six-year battle that included 67 treatments after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

It was a tough road, he said, and she was weary and ready to give up. But she also left him with some encouraging words.

"She said, 'There's someone out there for you,'" he said.

Turns out he would meet his future wife soon afterward.

"We lived two blocks from each other and didn't even know it," Star said. "God put us together. I know He did."

The two wound up talking and being strong support for one another. They wed in May 2017.

Paul Sherard Jr. was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

Ernestine Sherard, his wife of 30 years, was by his side throughout all the treatments and the surgery, and sat next to him at the dinner.

It was their first time attending, but seemed fitting as they have much to be thankful for, as 72-year-old Paul is still here.

"I'm blessed," his wife said.

Joan Price has been on the committee for cancer survivor events for years and years -- for both Relay for Life and Cures for the Colors -- and recalled when it was little more than "a cookie and a cup of punch."

"When I first started on the committee I wasn't a survivor; my mother was," she said. "She had Stage 4 ovarian cancer in 1989. She's still living and is now 81."

Then Price learned that she had breast cancer in January 2001.

She had a radical mastectomy, four rounds of chemo, took the drug Tamoxifen for five years and had reconstruction surgery.

Dr. James Atkins of SMOC has been her doctor and all her treatments were in Goldsboro, she said.

The survivor dinner has become even more meaningful, she says.

"I enjoy it, and I like helping with the committee because now I'm in the same boat they're in," she said. "So it's important to me because I have lost of lot of family members and good friends that didn't survive.

"So to see this many survivors, it's special to me."

SMOC staff helped in a variety of ways, serving meals and pitching in behind the scenes.

Teresa Hoyt, SMOC business manager, said it is an important gift to their patients and families.

"We're doing it for them and it's a way for us to celebrate their survival and a way for us to celebrate together -- they're part of our team and we're part of their team."