By Paul T. Choate
March 6, 2013. The American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Watauga County officially kicked off on Monday night at the Greenway Baptist Church Family Life Center with around 30 people in attendance. The event featured speakers from the community who have benefitted from the funds raised at Relay. Team and individual awards for Relay 2012 were also presented.
“Our goal for this year is $138,000. We would really like to see us get back to the levels we have had in many previous years,” said Kathy Idol, Relay co-chairwoman. “Since our relay began we have raised over $3.8 million in Watauga County and some of those years we raised well over $300,000. I think if we all get out and work hard we can at least meet and surpass this goal this year.”
Prior to awards and local cancer survivors telling their stories, Patricia Bossert, Western NC ACS grassroots manager, spoke of the importance of advocacy in the community.
“Our goal is to recruit 30 ACS [Cancer Action Network (CAN)] members for every relay event,” Bossert said. “The more ACS CAN members we have, the more advocates we have, the more power we have with our elected officials. That’s why we need members. You know our elected officials need some convincing sometimes.”
During the event, many in attendance signed up for Relay 2013.
According to Idol, $137,306.42 was raised during Relay 2012. Last year’s Relay consisted of 42 teams and 383 team members, and the money raised worked out to $4.41 per capita. These funds put Watauga in the “$100,000 Club” of ACS.
Della Presnell was again the top individual fundraiser, as she has been in many prior years, with $5,428 raised. The children’s top fundraiser for the second time was Amber Hamby, who raised $2,042.
Awards were also presented to the top three teams. Jerry’s Intimidators raised the most money for Relay 2012, with $12,407. Friends for Life raised $11,966.25 and the Deerfield Dream Team raised $9,005.
There was a lot of happiness in the air for much of the event, but there were some real tearjerker moments when local cancer survivors spoke.
Jane Hodges, Watauga County Elections director and cancer survivor, spoke of angels when she told her story. Hodges was informed she had inflammatory breast cancer in January 2012 and angels came to her in the form of two cancer survivors her doctors put her in touch with.
She said well-meaning family and friends attempted to talk about the cancer and the fear of what was ahead with her, but the two survivors she was put in touch with – Debbie and Mary – were able to understand what she was going through and were able to give her added courage during her battle. Hodges’ cancer is now in remission and she recently celebrated one year being cancer free.
The keynote speaker of the event was Lisa Bottomly, of Sparta, who is an ACS community manager and cancer survivor. She started off by explaining that she has been cancer free for nine years as of February, but that her brother Mark was not so lucky in his own battle.
“My story is one that we like to hear. It has a happy ending. But we all know there are a lot of stories out there that don’t. We have a lot of work still to do — a lot of fighting to do against this disease,” Bottomly said.
Bottomly then told the story of her brother’s two-year battle with cancer. Despite never having smoked or chewed tobacco a single day in his life, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Bottomly explained that her brother went through all the various treatments, saying he explained that during chemotherapy it was “like swallowing over razor blades.”
Ultimately, Mark’s cancer went into remission, but then returned. Following a neck dissection to remove cancerous lymph nodes, they believed he might be able to beat the cancer. Unfortunately, they later discovered it had metastasized near his brain and that he was in the 10 percent that couldn’t be cured.
Bottomly said once they knew her brother was going to die they tried to enjoy the time they had left. She said the last time she saw him the cancer had affected him so badly she didn’t even recognize him and he could no longer communicate.
“I made a vow to him that day that I would keep fighting for him,” Bottomly said. “He fought and he fought for two years and it still beat him. So I promised him that I would never stop fighting for him. … I relay because the ACS wants the same thing I do and that is a cure.”
Mark passed away three days before this past Christmas.
The actual Relay, held at Watauga High School, is not until June 14, but with a cause as important as this it is critical to get started as early as possible.
“A lot of fundraising that the teams do is before the event,” Idol said. “The earlier we can get them registered at that sort of the thing, the better.”
About Relay for Life
The world’s largest grassroots fundraising movement, Relay For Life mobilizes communities throughout the country to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and provide participants with an opportunity to fight back against the disease. Relay brings together friends, families, businesses, hospitals, schools, faith-based groups … people from all walks of life – all aimed at furthering the American Cancer Society’s vision of creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays.
Relay ForLife began in 1985 with one man who walked and ran around a track for 24 hours and raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. This year, Relay For Lifewill take place in nearly 5,100 communities in the United States and 20 other countries and will raise funds to support the Society’s mission of saving lives by helping people stay well, by helping people get well, by finding cures and fighting back.
Photos by Paul T. Choate