relay update

relay-logoWell, it’s been an American Cancer Society Relay For Life kind of week.

Monday night, I helped set up for our annual Celebrity Waiter Luncheon, which I attended on Tuesday. This morning, I went to Shelbyville Rotary Club to cover a presentation (which I was responsible for setting up) by our American Cancer Society community manager, Samantha Chamblee.

On Sunday, one of my fellow members at First United Methodist will be making a pitch for the congregation to restart a Relay team after being idle for a few years.

I first got involved in Relay in 2011, the year after losing my mother, Carrie Carney, to pancreatic cancer. In 2012, I joined the local Relay organizing committee (now called the event leadership team; ACS seems to love changing its jargon every few years). Last year, I won the Martha Deason Award as Bedford County’s Relay volunteer of the year:


No that’s not a trick of the lighting. My hair is purple, thanks to one of our Relay teams that night, which was offering temporary hair color.

Relay, and ACS, have become passions for me.

After an incredibly successful local event in 2014, our numbers have been down a little bit, and we were agonizing over that at the last committee meeting a few weeks ago. Part of it is just the normal cyclical nature of things. But some people have complained about the fact that the money they give to ACS goes out of town.

Yes, it does. But the impact of that money is felt in Bedford County every single day.

ACS does provide patient services, such as a 24-hour information and referral line, transportation to cancer treatments, and a network of Hope Lodge facilities that provide lodging for people undergoing cancer treatments more than 50 miles away from home.

But obviously, the biggest part of what ACS does is research. Specifically, $3.9 billion in cancer research since 1946, including work by 47 Nobel Prize winners. There’s not been some magic silver-bullet cure for cancer, and that distracts people from what actually has been accomplished. Many individual cancers that used to be untreatable are now treatable. Detection of cancer is better. Prevention of cancer is better. ACS’s sister organization, the Cancer Action Network, has advocated for laws relating to issues like smoking and insurance coverage. There’s no way to even estimate how many people are walking the planet right now blissfully unaware that the American Cancer Society is partly responsible for saving their lives.

This is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Three and a half years ago, after turning 50, I had a colonoscopy, as recommended by ACS guidelines and my doctor. My insurance paid for the procedure, without even looking at my deductible. The good news is that the doctor didn’t discover any cancer. The even better news is that the doctor removed a benign polyp from my colon – and when it comes to colon cancer, benign polyps sometimes turn into cancerous polyps. So that colonoscopy could, just possibly, have saved my life. I’ll never know. And the American Cancer Society played a big part in promoting colonoscopies and making them more readily available to more people.

It’s hard to get people to wrap their minds around such “what if” scenarios. Some people just see dollars going out of town, and don’t realize that the impact of those dollars is all around them – and maybe looking back at them in the mirror.

Relay For Life – the actual event, as well as the year-round activity which feeds into it – is a thing of joy. It’s a time to, as the slogan goes, “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.” It’s something that means a lot to me. Relay events used to always run overnight, to symbolize the darkness and struggle with which cancer patients must contend. But a rule change a few years ago has allowed many communities to cut back the length of their Relay events by eliminating the overnight schedule. But I love the overnight schedule, which we’ve held onto in Bedford County for another year. I love being at the event at 3 in the morning, feeling like I’m part of something special, something larger than myself.

Please consider doing one of the following:

  • Join or start a Relay team. If you’re reading this from outside Bedford County, you can find your community’s Relay event here. If you’re here in Bedford County, here’s our local event.
  • At the very least, please attend your local Relay event. It’s not, repeat NOT, just for the registered team members. Teams will have concession stands set up and will be selling lots of tasty food, merchandise, carnival games, and so on. There will be special ceremonies and activities, such as a survivor lap to honor cancer survivors and a luminaria ceremony to remember those we’ve lost and honor those who are still fighting. If you’ve never attended a luminaria ceremony, you will have to trust me when I tell you it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
  • Or, you can donate online to support someone who is participating in Relay.

Do it for my mom, if you knew her. Or do it for any of the people you know who are fighting cancer, or for someone you remember who was lost to cancer.

Harriett and Samantha

It was Harriett Stewart and Samantha Chamblee who, four years ago, first asked me to serve on the American Cancer Society Relay For Life committee in Bedford County. At the time, Harriett was our ACS staff partner and Samantha, a volunteer, was our local committee chair.

Since that time, a lot of things have changed — Harriett was transferred to another job within ACS and then ended up retiring. Samantha, on the other hand, ended up taking a job with ACS, and now she does what Harriett used to do for several counties in the area.

All of this makes it delightful that both women are now involved in Bedford County’s Relay once again. A reorganization of ACS territory means we are now one of Samantha’s counties. (Many thanks to our previous staff partner, Mackenzie Evans, who was also a delight to work with. Mackenzie is still with ACS and will be working with several college-based Relay events.)

Harriett, even though she lives in Lebanon, still has a special place for Bedford County’s Relay in her heart. When several of us from Shelbyville went to her retirement party a year or two ago, as soon as the people from other counties found out where we were from, they noted how often and fondly she spoke of the Bedford County crew. Anyway, Harriett will be working with us as a volunteer this year, helping to recruit sponsors for the Bedford County event.

Here’s Harriett, in the foreground, with Judi Burton, another known troublemaker:

A photo posted by John Carney (@lakeneuron) on

Both of these things were announced Monday night at our first committee meeting to start talking about the 2016 Relay. I think very highly of both these ladies and am looking forward to working with them in the coming year.

Technically, the 2015 Relay year has not ended yet. If you still want to give to this year’s Relay, you can do so between now and the end of the month. I’d be honored if you gave towards my participation.

the rest of the year

It’s one of the curses of my life in recent years that three of the things I look forward to the most each year – the Nashville Symphony concert in Shelbyville, for which I’m co-chair of the organizing committee; the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Bedford County, for which I’m publicity and online chair (and was just named volunteer of the year); and my annual week at Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry all fall within about a six or seven week period in May and June. This sets me up for a huge letdown once they’re all over with. I want it to be Relay night again. I want to be pulling into Cumberland Pines again (especially since there were a few aspects of this year’s AIM experience where I’d like a do-over). But now I have 11 months until Relay next year (and I’m not even sure if we’ll have a symphony concert next year).

I have no time to mope, however. Ever since April 8, I’d been on loan to the Times-Gazette’s sister paper in Lewisburg. I was still writing a few things for the Times-Gazette – county government stories, plus a few features – but my day-to-day work was at the Marshall County Tribune.

I found out while I was at Mountain T.O.P. that my sojourn is over and I will show up for work on Monday at the Times-Gazette. I will hit the ground running; we have some hot county budget issues, and we’ll soon start (if they haven’t already) working on stories for our annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration supplement.

I also plan to try out for a play next month. Martin Jones is a pressman at the T-G with whom I’ve appeared in several productions. (I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn”; he played my father in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” We’ve also appeared together in other things.) He’ll be directing a production of “Don’t Drink The Water,” with auditions next month and the actual production in September.

And I plan to continue work on the self-published book of sermons and devotionals that I keep talking about. I have been making some progress, but now that Relay and all that is behind me, I can get even more serious.

On a related note, I am already included in a new book of devotionals. In honor of its 40th anniversary, Mountain T.O.P. has published “Walk Down This Mountain,” a collection of devotions collected throughout the ministry’s history, broken down into sections by decade.

I knew they were talking about it and had even given them some of my self-publishing experience and pointed them towards CreateSpace, the firm I used for my Bad Self-Published Novel. I did not realize until I flipped through a copy last month that my “cast-iron skillet sermon,” which I adapted for use as a Holy Time Out several years back, was included. The Kindle edition of the book is now listed on Amazon, but the paperback still has a placeholder page. And I don’t have the direct link to the CreateSpace page. I will post all of that to social media once I get it.

So maybe I’ll be busy enough this summer to avoid the post-Relay, post-Mountain T.O.P. letdown.

Checking in

Well, I’ve been sloppy about blog posts the past week or two, because I’ve been putting everything on Facebook and I was so wrapped up in Relay.

I’ve about recovered, although I’ll get another taste tomorrow, when I go to visit Marshall County’s Relay For Life and take a few photos of it for the Tribune. I went to Tullahoma’s Relay in 2014, but this will just be the second time I’ve been to a Relay event other than Bedford County’s. Trina Rios, the chair of Marshall County’s event, came to ours last weekend, and I was able to introduce her to Jennifer Smith, one of our two co-chairs. I’m looking forward to seeing how Marshall County does Relay.

Marshall County’s event is not overnight — it runs from noon until midnight on Saturday. The American Cancer Society used to require that Relay events take place overnight. It was part of the symbolism of the event — it symbolized a cancer patient passing through the dark night of illness and emerging on the other side, either in remission or, barring that, at least an end to pain. There are enough prime-time or daylight hours for the public — since we want the public to come and patronize the various concessions run by our teams. But then the wee hours of the morning are just for the walkers, and the people on the track at 3 a.m. can take a special kind of pride in their participation. That’s the way it works in Bedford County.

ACS, however, dropped the overnight requirement. Part of the event must still take place after dark — so that you can have a luminaria ceremony — but you don’t have to go overnight. Some communities are moving to a schedule that puts their entire event during the day and/or evening, so that they can maximize public attendance and the concession/festival aspects of Relay.

I understand this, and support the communities making that choice, but I also have a soft spot in my heart for the symbolism of that overnight walk. I think of the late Dr. Gordy Klatt, who started Relay For Life in Tacoma, Washington, by running for 24 hours as an individual fund-raiser. I imagine him running at 3 a.m., and still being on the track as the eastern sky started to lighten up a bit. I think of him running as the sun rises, and I smile.

During Relay, I posted a closeup of my Martha Deason Award plaque to Facebook, as well as the funny video where I drop my phone as my name is called. The closeup of the plaque got a lot of hits and likes, so I felt it would be overkill to add the photo that my co-worker Adria took of me using my T-G camera a few minutes later. But I liked that photo, which went into the T-G today, and so I’ll share it here.


I still don’t know why they presented the award at night — in the past, it’s been part of the general awards given out at the end of Relay. I was walking back from somewhere, and Jennifer and Sharon stepped out of the gazebo to make an announcement. They mentioned the Martha Deason Award, which is our local Relay’s traditional volunteer-of-the-year plaque. I’d been making video all night, of course, and figured I’d capture the Deason award presentation as part of that. My smartphone was on a small, portable charger — the basic size and shape of a sleeve of Hall’s cough drops — with a cable connecting the two. Sharon was talking about the award, and when she got to my name, I was surprised enough that I let go of the charger. It dropped to the end of its cable and then jerked the phone out of my hand. I didn’t technically drop the phone all the way, just fumbled with it.


I thought I'd get some video of them presenting the award… Little did I know.

Posted by John I. Carney on Friday, June 5, 2015

It was a neat honor. I’m proud of it. There are a lot of others who probably do more, but I’m an easy target because people know who I am.

Mom’s birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.


This is one of the last photos I have of her, with my sister Elecia at a party following my niece Jacey’s high school graduation in May 2010. She died of pancreatic cancer in August of that year. I am so sorry Mom won’t be around for Jacey’s wedding next month. I think of her often, as we all do – I’ll see something that she would have liked, and be instantly reminded of her.

In 2013 and 2014, I happened by pure chance to be working on Relay For Life stuff on Mom’s birthday, and this year I only missed it by a day (in either direction – I had Bark For Life yesterday, and Relay For Life committee meetings tomorrow night). Raising money for the American Cancer Society won’t bring my mother back, but maybe it will give a few more people some more days, months or years with their own mothers and fathers and spouses and children.

Value the time you have with the people you love. You never, ever know which meeting will be your last.

T-shirt question

OK, all of the laundry experts out there ….

As referenced in a video blog post a week or two ago, the Relay For Life organizing committee (as well as all of our team captains) received their T-shirts much earlier than usual this year. In the past, those T-shirts were given out right before Relay. They would be worn for the first time at Relay and would then become a fond souvenir for repeat wearings after the fact.

This year, however, we’ve gotten our T-shirts several months early, and are being encouraged to wear them at preliminary events – like today’s Celebrity Waiter Luncheon – and in other situations where we might want to promote Relay.

WP_20150317_001In a happy coincidence, our committee shirts are green, so several of us, including me, wore them to today’s luncheon, which happened to fall on Saint Patrick’s Day.

This photo was taken in advance. I promise I wasn’t quite this sweaty during the actual luncheon.

Anyway, the point is, I wore the shirt today – and will probably wear it again, for things like Bark For Life or the Times-Gazette’s Community-Wide yard Sale.

But I still want it to look nice on June 5, when the actual Relay gets here.

I hand-washed the shirt in cold water tonight. Was that a good idea, or overkill? What else can I do to keep the shirt in good shape between now and June?


The past few years, we’ve had our kickoff event for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Bedford County in the fall. And it’s been poorly attended. We were going to have one this past fall, but a combination of factors forced us to postpone it until Jan. 31 – but that seems to have been a good thing. The number of RSVPs on the event’s Facebook page is already quite a bit higher than our normal attendance, and I’m sure there are people planning on coming who haven’t bothered to click the button.

But there’s still room for you! Whether or not you’re familiar with Relay, this is a great chance to stop by and have a good time. We will have a hot chocolate bar, and cookies, and kid-friendly games and activities. It will be more of a party than a presentation, although we will, of course, have information available about Relay.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event. Ours will be held June 5-6 at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center. Relay For Life is not a run or a race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. It’s as much a festival as it is a walk. Each team typically operates some sort of concession – food, souvenirs, children’s games or activities or what have you. There are also ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. We encourage the general public, not just team members, to attend.

Teams raise money with their Relay-night concessions, but they also raise money in advance, with group fund-raisers and individual fund-raising by members.

Relay teams can be workplace-based, church-based, neighborhood-based or just a circle of friends. Sometimes, a Relay team is formed in tribute to a cancer patient or in memory of someone we’ve lost to cancer.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to for more information. Otherwise, go to and search for the Relay event in your area.

And please think about joining us, 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center.

start planning

Regardless of when a community holds its actual event, the American Cancer Society Relay For Life year runs from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31. The Relay website has now been reset for the new year, which means it’s now open for people – like you – to create and join teams, or to contribute to people who have.

In Bedford County, our Relay For Life event won’t take place until June 5-6 of next year. Why would anyone want to form a team so early?

It’s true that some of our teams may not organize until some time after the first of the year, or even in the spring. But part of the fun of being in Relay is that it’s really a year-round thing. Our best, most successful teams here in Bedford County have fund-raisers at various points throughout the year. That means they have fewer other Relay fund-raisers with which to compete, and that they can do more, raise more, and have more fun.

First, let’s backtrack for those of you who don’t know what Relay is or how it works. Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event – like the one which I mentioned would be June 5-6, 2015, in Bedford County. Relay is not a run – although it started that way – and it’s not any sort of race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. There are many other festival-style aspects to the event. Each team typically operates some sort of concession stand, selling food or T-shirts or pony rides or what have you. There are also special ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the goosebump-inducing Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. In the wee hours of the morning, there are picnic-style games to keep everyone’s energy level up.

So some of the Relay money is raised on Relay night, by the concessions I mentioned in that last paragraph. But most of it is raised in advance of Relay. Teams can raise money in a variety of ways. Individual team members can ask friends or family for money on their own, a process that’s made easier with e-mail and social media tools at the Relay web site. But most teams put heavy emphasis on team fund-raisers – yard sales, bake sales, T-shirt sales, poker runs, pageants, candygram sales, flamingo placement, and any number of other events limited only by the imagination.

That’s why it’s a good idea to form teams early. The earlier you get started, the more and/or better fund-raisers you’ll be able to plan, and the more money you’ll be able to raise.

What happens to that money? Glad you asked.

So, who can form a Relay team? Just about anybody. We have workplace-based teams (some officially sanctioned by the employer, others unofficial), church-based teams, school-based teams, and teams of people who have been brought together because they’re friends and family of a particular cancer patient, past or present. It’s up to you. There’s no official team size, either. You need enough people to have a walker on the track at all times, and probably to operate some simple concession at the same time. But how you divide all that is entirely up to your team, and you can bring in all sorts of friends and family members even if, for example, your company only has a handful of actual salaried employees.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to for more information. Otherwise, go to and search for the Relay event in your area.

This program has meant an awful lot to me since my mother’s passing from pancreatic cancer in 2010. I am a member of the organizing committee for the Bedford County event. (We’re treated like a Relay team in terms of fund-raising, and we have our own year-round committee fundraisers, but we don’t actually walk during the event because we’re busy putting on the event.) I had thought, up until the past few days, that I might have to miss the 2015 Relay due to a family commitment, and that thought really saddened me. But the conflict has been resolved, and I look forward to being there for all 12 hours (plus setup and teardown) in 2015.

Will you be there with me, at least for part of that time? Form a team, or join an existing team. I know cancer has touched people you love and care about, and maybe it’s touched you as an individual. This is a way you can respond. Our Relay motto is “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back,” and we try to do all three in equal measure during a Relay event. Please think about joining us.

a good weekend

I didn’t post about Relay yesterday because I was focusing on the video.  (I admit it. I was kind of proud of how the video turned out.)

Anyway, I think we were all pleased with how it turned out. We have not yet met our (ambitious) 2014 goal, but the Relay year runs until Aug. 31 and some of our teams still have fund-raisers planned. We had a great turnout Friday night, and everything went smoothly. There were clouds, it was breezy during our setup hours on Friday afternoon, and we worried a little about rain, but the worst we got was a couple of light sprinkles – not even enough to make you put up an umbrella. (Unfortunately, the weather forecast was enough to prevent the rock-climbing wall from arriving in the first place.

My first Relay was in 2011, and since I wasn’t a part of the county organizing committee I didn’t get there until an hour or two before opening ceremonies. That was a 12-hour Relay. My second, in 2012, was an 18-hour Relay, and I had to arrive earlier to help with setup. In both cases, I got sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then caught a second wind and finished well. Last year, I never got that second wind, and I was groggy alll through the morning.

This year, possibly due to the first 5-Hour Energy I’ve ever consumed, but also possibly due to weight loss and more regular exercise, I did much, much better. We went back to a 12-hour format this year, so I didn’t have to stay as long as I did last year. But even taking the different schedule into account, I felt noticeably better and got to enjoy the overnight fun much more this year than last year.

Speaking of fitness, here’s the bad news. Remember that Fitbit that I thought I lost at last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration but which turned up in my car seven months later? Well, I lost it again. And I’m certain it’s not in the car; I remember having it on at Relay, thinking about how many steps I was going to register when I got home and synched it with the computer. Now, I’ll never know.