Well, 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.