Relay for Life season starts with open house featuring cancer survivors

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 17, 2014 at 4:02 PM

The 2014 Relay for Life season officially got under way in Northeast Tennessee on Thursday with an open house kickoff party at the American Cancer Society’s regional office in Johnson City and evening Relay team celebrations in Carter and Unicoi counties.

Held in communities around the world, Relay for Life is the ACS’s largest volunteer led fundraising event and last year raised more than $5 million for the fight against cancer, including more than $860,000 in the Tri-Cities region.

“We’ve accomplished a lot. Two out of three people now survive cancer. Our goal is three out of three,” said Jessica Poff, East Tennessee’s Relay for Life specialist and community representative for the American Cancer Society.

“It’s going to take the whole community to finish the fight and this is the call. ... Today we’re asking the community to all come in and end the fight.”

Last year in the Tri-Cities area, an estimated 4,200 Relay team members and 1,478 cancer survivors took part in 10 community Relays held in nine local counties.

In addition to the teams and the survivors the Relays honor, each event drew thousands of community members, Elise Allen, senior relay manager for East Tennessee, said.

More than an awareness walk and more than a fundraiser, Allen said Relay for Life is celebration and memorial held in honor of the many lives cancer has affected. Each event features up to 12 hours of live entertainment, music, food, games and a large variety of activities, all presented in a street carnival atmosphere.

The beauty of the benefit, Allen said, is that “we all can be involved.”

“Everybody can do something to be part of making that big impact. The Relay teams do what they like and raise most of money before the Relays ever happen. They golf. They run. They do bake sales and yard sales. People can do what they want to do or we can match them up with something that’s already going on.”

This year’s local Relay for Life schedule begins April 25 at East Tennessee State University with the annual campus Relay. Washington and Hawkins counties have both scheduled their Relays for May 3. Bristol, Kingsport and Greene and Carter counties’ events are all set in June. Hawkins County and Jonesborough will hold their Relays in July, and Unicoi County in September.

Fundraising for each of the events begins months in advance of the actual Relay and are often organized by volunteers whose lives have been changed by cancer.

Sandy Lowe, mother of Summer Lowe, an 11-year-old student at Boones Creek Middle School when she died with cancer in 2006, is one of them. A breast cancer survivor herself, Lowe said it was the death of her daughter that led her to be involved in Relay for Life. “When you lose a child, it changes your perspective,” she said.

Co-captain of the 911 Life Savers Relay team made up of her coworkers at Washington County’s 911 Center and a member of the county’s Relay for Life Committee, Lowe’s role this year is to involve as many area schools as possible.

Anyone interested in being involved in any of the area events or in helping local cancer patients in other ways to call Poff at the ACS office at 282-7010 or 926-2921 or email jessicapoff@acs.org.

More details about the local Relays, including opportunities to join or register a team can also be found online at www.RelayForLife.org.

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