Cancer outlook improving as Relay for Life looms

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

September 5, 2013

Cancer hasn’t been eradicated, but a diagnosis of the disease is not the death sentence it once was, a local Relay for Life organizer assures as final preparations continue for that event this Saturday.

The Relay for Life will be held from noon to 11 p.m. at the Mount Airy High School football field/track. It will feature live music by two bands and a variety of other activities to highlight the fact there are many cancer survivors.

With the disease now accounting for nearly one of every four deaths in the United States, the public perception is that little headway is being made.

However, Dianne Johnson, who is co-chairing Relay for Life, said there has been improvement — with better treatment methods, drugs and other factors providing more hope for victims than was the case in earlier years.

“I would say there is a difference,” said Johnson, who has been involved with Relay for Life for 17 years and lost her own father to the disease in 2012.

“Breast cancer, for example,” she said, “used to have a grimmer face to it,” yet the prospects of beating that disease are greater today.

When someone hears the dreaded words from a doctor’s lips — “You have cancer” — it’s still a shock, Johnson acknowledged, yet the gloom-and-doom scenario of the past has been replaced with a different outlook. “It’s more positive — that things can get better,” said Johnson, who is co-chairing Relay for Life with Roxann Moore and Sally Adams.

“Without our fundraising efforts, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Johnson said of progress made in the fight against cancer.

That is where a key role is played by the local Relay for Life campaign, which has been generating around $100,000 annually to fund further cancer research along with providing an important show of support.

“We had several hundred who came last year,” Johnson said of 2012 attendance.

Relay Activities

Aside from its fundraising aspect, the goal of Relay for Life is simple, Johnson said. “It’s focused around survivors, celebrating those who are surviving cancer and remembering those who have lost their battle with cancer.” This year’s Relay for Life is coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the American Cancer Society.

Gates will open at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the high school to allow participants to set up tents, namely members of about 30 teams from local businesses or agencies whose individual efforts add up to tens of thousands of dollars in financial support.

While the 19th annual local Relay for Life walk officially begins at noon, activities will be sandwiched in throughout the day to highlight the occasion, including children’s games and more.

This includes an opening ceremony at 2 p.m. The Mount Airy Honor Guard and Boy Scouts will present the colors, with the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance to be led by the Mount Airy High School Show Choir.

Mayor Deborah Cochran also will read a city proclamation recognizing the day’s importance.

The band Five Play, which performs a variety of music, will perform from 1 to 2 p.m. and 2:45 to 4 p.m., with the Christian rock group Holy Obsession to take the stage from 6:30 to 7 p.m. A deejay is to provide music at other times.

“We will have a survivor’s lap at 6 p.m.,” Johnson said of another highlight open to those who have fended off cancer, whether it be for one day, one week, one year or 40 years. Survivors can receive free purple T-shirts at the event to signify their accomplishment.

“It’s moving to see that sea of purple moving around the track,” Johnson said of the special lap each year.

She added that the collective presence of the survivors makes an impact regarding beating cancer, pointing out that as many as 900 survivors have signed up to walk in the past. A recent survivors’ dinner drew more than 300 survivors and guests.

Luminaries will be lit around the track at 9:15 p.m. in the memory or honor of someone who has had cancer.

The track also will be occupied during the day by members of the teams that form the backbone of fundraising efforts.

“Right now, about 340 team members have registered to walk,” Johnson said Wednesday.

She emphasized that anyone can take part in Saturday’s Relay for Life, which isn’t restricted to those touched by cancer. It is uplifting event that can bolster one’s spirits in general, Johnson said.

“When you are there, you have such a common bond with people.” Johnson believes this sends a strong message to those who’ve been stricken with cancer: “All of these people are there to support you.”

Teams Praised

“We have some of the most creative teams that came up with really neat ways to raise money,” Johnson said. For example, one group mounted a dress-down campaign in its workplace, where employees paid $5 for the privilege of wearing casual attire while also supporting the cause.

Others have sold various items, which also will be the case Saturday during the Relay for Life, and have worked year-round in some cases, Johnson said.

Mentioning that the local campaign has generated more than $200,000 in the past, she said the economy has reduced that to around $100,000 annually, which is still greatly appreciated.

“We feel very blessed to have the support we do from the community.”

It’s all part of the goal of seeing the day when cancer is no longer a threat — when no one is told that they have the disease, Johnson said.

“We all hope for that day when we don’t have to hear those words anymore.”

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