The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

July 6, 2014

Why everyone should relate to Relay

Which leg of the relay are you on? Are you the first among your circle to have cancer — setting the pace from the starting blocks for completing the course with strength?

Or are you waiting on the receiving end of a genetic baton, predisposing you to a particular type of cancer?

Are you an anchor? The spouse, friend, or parent — chasing away anything that distracts from that one elusive word — recovery — holding it together so another can fight?

None of us are cancer free. That’s how an oncologist explained cancer to Pat Davis. To her, mom of a cancer survivor, it was the only explanation that made sense.

Davis, Media and Corporate Sponsor chair for Relay For Life of Raleigh County, comments, “We all have cancer cells in our bodies; the question is, what causes them to start growing, to go haywire?”

Davis volunteers as a Relay For Life leader because she believes in finding a cure for cancer. She is also a believer in celebrating progress and a job so far well done but with miles still to go.

“The American Cancer Society is known as the creator of more birthdays — over 400 people celebrate their birthdays every day who would not be here if it weren’t for early detection and treatments,” she states.

Davis became active with the annual American Cancer Society fundraising event when her son, Micah, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“I had never heard of Relay For Life before 2001. Micah was diagnosed that year in April at age 24. He had surgery that month and went to his first event that June.”

Thyroid cancer had taken the wind out of Davis — it was unexpected. Micah didn’t have a family history and his profile didn’t fit that of the typical person at risk of thyroid cancer.

That’s when she realized — cancer is an indiscriminate thief.

“As a mother, you want to try and help your kids. I wanted to help Micah, but I couldn’t take cancer away from him. My next best option was to help fight it by raising money.”

Davis has since participated in organizing Raleigh County’s Relay For Life, held at Crossroads Mall. This year’s open-invitation gathering is July 11 and the need is greater than ever with a goal of $110,000 to contribute toward cancer research.

Like she did from a need to understand, Davis encourages people, families, to come to Relay For Life “just one time.” The atmosphere of encouragement and hope, she says from experience, will keep them coming back.

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No longer whispered like a curse word in casual conversation, cancer has come to represent a generational kind of honesty. Once held in the esoteric confines of family and support groups, a cultural transparency about cancer is emerging in books like the celebrated novel “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green and its 2014 screen adaptation. Made-for-television dramas play out lives altered from dealing with the life-limiting illness.

Davis’ hope is that the momentum of attention to cancer will equate greater concern and support for a cure, an enduring awareness that no one rests … until there is resolution.

“We raise money throughout the year because cancer is a year-round thing. Sometimes, people ask, ‘Are you going to stop (the event) if it rains?’ No,” comments Davis, “because cancer doesn’t stop when it rains.”

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Kathy Housh, Crossroads Mall general manager, says her goal is to keep the event interesting and different each year so families are encouraged to relate to cancer survivors regularly and to support continued awareness and fundraising efforts.

Creativity for a cause is her forte.

“We are doing a selfie booth this year with all kinds of props. We are also selling sidewalk chalk for people to write inspiring messages on the parking lot. The sponsor booths this year have taken the different colors representing the different types of cancer,” says Housh.

She is also bringing back popular food vendors, like the sausage sandwiches sold as one of many specialty options available for the crowd, an item she says has become more like a tradition.

The event kicks off at 6 p.m., with the most visibly touching component — the survivor and caregiver lap around the parking lot — beginning at 6:30.

In addition to individual sponsor activities, the luminary service in remembrance of those who’ve lost their battles to cancer begins at 9 p.m. and the lighthearted Mr. Relay pageant begins at 11 p.m.

“Relay for Life is very symbolic,” Davis describes. “We start at night, representing the darkness of when a person receives that first diagnosis. We begin with the Survivor Lap, we walk and stay up all night, representing when you’re tired and you don’t want to go on. The closing ceremonies are around 5 a.m. — when the sun comes up.”

This year’s theme, “The Colors of Hope,” was intended to illustrate the multiple types of cancer addressed in part by funds from events held across the nation.

“Breast cancer is important, but Relay is not just for breast cancer. My biggest fear in planning was that all the booths would be pink. We want to see lots of color to let people know we fight all cancers, not just breast cancer,” says Davis.

Once the volunteers and sponsors are back at home catching up on their rest from the night previous, once the donations are counted and the goal met, Davis can briefly rest knowing the money raised today might fund the research that saves a family member from cancer tomorrow.

“Relay makes you more aware of cancer and how it affects everyone’s life. But there is hope. With the advancements the ACS is making in treatments, there is always hope,” she states.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

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