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Relay chance for community to come together

Few of us could manage to do what Mary Laskey did back in 1946: raise $1 million to donate to the cause of cancer research. Laskey’s gift was the foundation of the Research Program of the American Cancer Society, which has grown into the largest non-profit, nongovernmental source of cancer research funds in the U.S. Since that initial gift, the ACS has invested more than $2.5 billion in cancer research.

That is a staggering amount that is hard for the average person to wrap their head around.

And keep in mind; this money, which has funded 42 researchers who have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize for their scientific achievements, was raised largely by volunteers. Volunteers, with family obligations, many holding full-time jobs and facing constant demands on their time and talents.

Volunteers like lung cancer survivor Marie Owens, sponsorship chair for Relay For Life in Butler County the signature fundraiser for ACS.

It’s been a tough year for fundraising, Owens will tell you; the recession has hit hard and many sources for sponsorship dollars have dried up.

And yet, people are still giving here in Butler County, still working to make a difference. Team captains and members have held and will hold bake sales, yard sales, car washes, plant sales, concerts, poker runs and beauty pageants. They have raffled off items, sold boxed lunches and bagged groceries for tips. And all the monies raised go to the Butler County Relay For Life.

“Without all you volunteers, we could not continue to exist,” Jessica Garrard ACS community representative for the county, told the ACS board members.

And it is true. That amazing sum of $2.5 billion was raised,year by year, citizen by citizen, across the nation: $2 here for a raffle ticket; $8 there for a boxed lunch, $10 for a car wash. And it all adds up, helping bring about breakthroughs made by ACS researchers, like the creation of the Pap test, life-saving chemotherapy drugs, the breast cancer drug tamoxifen and the effective use of mammography to screen for breast cancer.

Progress is being made in the fight. The death rate from female breast cancer decreased by 15.6 percent between 1990 and 2000, and the cure rate for childhood leukemia has increased dramatically to over 85 percent. A larger percentage of people than ever before are now surviving cancer due to advances in prevention, early detection and treatment.

And it doesn’t stop with research. ACS also provides assistance with fuel costs for travels to treatment, wigs and prosthetics, free lodging to cancer patients and their families, and other direct benefits to those battling this disease.

One day, there’s a hope there will no longer be a need for such an event as Relay For Life. Until then, the fight continues.

“I work with Relay because I want people to know cancer is not an automatic death sentence,” Owens said.

“My mom was really sick during her treatments for breast cancer. I want other people to not have to go through the things she did. So anything we can do to cure cancer, or make it easier for those battling it, I want to do.”

The Butler County Relay For Life is slated for 6 p.m. Friday, May 8 through 6 a.m. Saturday, May 9 at the YMCA football field.