To the Point for 6/9/2005

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THE ANNUAL “RELAY FOR LIFE” event is just over a week away, and again this year there appears to be an air of apathy over the event.

That apathy is not coming from the organizers, who have been working tirelessly to make this year’s event both meaningful for the participants and beneficial for the American Cancer Society.

The “Relay for Life” events that are held around the country each year have become a staple of the fundraising efforts of the American Cancer Society. The funds go to help with research in the race to find a cure for cancer, a disease that more and more people each year suffer from.

Strides have been made. When I was a teenager, leukemia was a death sentence to millions of Americans. Today, through research, more and more people are overcoming it and leading normal lives.

Each year the number of cancer survivors grows larger, as researchers discover ways of battling the disease that only a few years ago weren’t dreamed of.

But even with the rise in success stories, cancer is also becoming more and more a part of our lives. Try and think about the last time you went through a week and didn’t hear the news that someone you knew had cancer. For most of us, it’s been a long time.

With skin cancer on the rise, more and more people are taking precautions with sun block when being outside. More and more men are shaking off the stigma and having examinations for prostate and colon cancer; and women have formed support groups to get others to have breast exams.

Early detection through programs such as these lend to the climbing of the survival rate among cancer sufferers; but research is the key to the long term battle against the disease.

Just stop and think for a moment about a world without cancer.

Think about that.

Over the years, as “Relay for Life” events have happened here in Switzerland County, I have heard comments from individuals that some of the funds raised should stay here in this county to help cancer victims right here at home.

“Why take all of that money and send it away?” has been the charge. “We’ve got people here who are driving back and forth with cancer who need help with gas money and meal money and other expenses”

I know, because I’ve been one of those people.

But thinking about it, shouldn’t the real desire be to stop those trips to the hospital for chemotherapy? If the person is cured through the efforts of research, then there would be no need for trips and meals and hotel stays.

Yes, currently that’s just a dream, and the reality is that there are those expenses, and as a community we need to work individually and collectively to help those people. There are jars at stores around the county asking people to drop in their change to help people who have specific needs. Because this is a close community that loves and care for our fellow citizens, most of the time those jars fill up rather quickly.

Yes, there are people who don’t want jars put out on their behalf, and those jars aren’t exactly wall safes when it comes to security — but it is an effort.

What we cannot allow to happen is that we focus so much on the local need that we neglect the bigger picture.

That may be what’s happening with our support of the local “Relay for Life” event.

Somewhere out there is a researcher who has an idea on how to cure cancer. She is sitting in a lab and staring and data and hoping that there’s enough research money our there to take her theory and put it into practice.

Maybe after the American Cancer Society wraps up its season of “Relay for Life” events, perhaps there is a surplus of funds that enables that researcher to get the money to conduct her experiments.

Maybe the Switzerland County money is that surplus.

And maybe the theory’s correct and she finds a cure.

That’s a lot of maybes, but without funds for research, we don’t even have that hope.

That’s the role that the “Relay for Life” event plays in the efforts of the American Cancer Society — and it’s a role that is vital in society’s battle with cancer.

That said, there is also a real need to help at a local level, so perhaps the local cancer control board might look at another event, perhaps in the fall after the Swiss Wine Festival, that would specifically target funds for local people.

It doesn’t have to be an overnight thing, perhaps just an activity on a Saturday afternoon that people could come to and participate with. The cancer control board could then establish a mechanism for the disbursement of the funds, and Switzerland County can win twice.

The Switzerland County “Relay for Life” starts next Friday at the Switzerland County High School track. There are many people who have worked very hard to make this event an important and productive one — and as a community we need to support those efforts and make the event a successful one.

Maybe we can make a big difference.