By Kendal Groner
Community members took to the Unicoi County High School Track this Saturday at the annual Relay For Life fundraiser to ‘Give Cancer the Boot’.
This event, which benefits the American Cancer Society, seeks to raise crucial funds each year that go towards cancer research as well as treatment and prevention programs. With enthusiastic participants and a fun western theme, Relay For Life team members were able to raise almost $45,000, according to Renea Jones-Rogers, the chairwoman for Unicoi County Relay For Life.
Rogers became involved with Relay For Life in 2006 after a close cousin was diagnosed with cancer. The following year her son, Nick Rogers, was unexpectedly diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T-cell Lymphoma.
“When you have a cancer diagnosis it just rocks your world,” said Rogers. “It just changes your whole outlook and the big thing is you just want to get involved and give back.”
Following her son’s diagnosis she has been on the leadership team since 2010 and has chaired the event for the last three years.
“This is a way for me to support others and offer a shoulder to lean on while raising dollars to find a cure,” she said. “If we can just make a dollar more than we had, then we’re making a difference.”
This year’s events featured a kids zone with inflatables, performances by the UCHS bluegrass band and ETSU cloggers, a Glo Run, and many more fun activities held at each team’s booth.
One standout booth was a brightly colored snow cone stand run by team Anders in support of 2-year-old Lillian Anders who was diagnosed at birth with stage 4 Neuroblastoma affecting her adrenals, liver, bones and skin. Lillian’s three siblings prepared snow cones for attendees as dozens flocked to the booth in the hot weather.
“She’s a survivor, but not everyone has been lucky enough to survive,” said Kristin Anders, Lillian’s mother. “But people see her and it gives them a reason to come here and participate even if they are grieving.”
As the events began to wind down for the afternoon, participants and supporters gathered around the stage to listen to the heartfelt stories told by those who had battled cancer.
Christy Vance, a two-time cancer survivor, spoke about her difficult journey with a rare cancer known as adenoid cystic carcinoma. In 1999 Vance underwent surgery for a tumor in the roof of her mouth before she was first diagnosed.
She wasn’t able to make it through all of her radiation treatments due to a severe toxic reaction. She went another 12 years before an MRI showed another tumor at her right nasal pharynx which required her to have two extensive surgeries.
“Upon going in for surgery, God had performed a miracle; the tumor was gone,” Vance said. “However, the cancer later spread to my eustachian tube, 90 percent of my jaw muscle, all of my sinuses and the B2 nerve in my face.”
After undergoing over 30 radiation treatments and with tremendous support from her husband and family, Vance has been cancer free for the last five and a half years.
“I hope anyone out there that has had cancer or is going through cancer remembers that God is always with you and he will always be by your side no matter how grim or how dark the days are,” she said.
Congressman Phil Roe, a former doctor who delivered Rogers’ son Nick, was among those who spoke during the survivor’s speech. The congressman was a strong supporter of the 21st Century Cures Act, under which there has been a $740 million increase in cancer funding and research. He is also a co-sponsor for the 2017 Patient Choice and Quality Care Act that would increase the availability of information and services to patients and families with life-limiting illnesses.
After being a caretaker for his former wife that he lost to cancer, and receiving a diagnosis with prostate cancer himself, his involvement in the cause has become much more personal.
“I am six weeks post operation and I am tickled to be here,” Roe said. “Anything I can do to promote early check ups, and to explain to people that there’s hope out there and to not look at cancer as being a final step, but just a step in their life is really important to me.”
During the survivor’s speech Roe said that he felt that it was important for a public figure like himself to come forward and speak on the importance of pre-cancer screenings and early treatment.
“There isn’t a person anywhere that hasn’t had a close personal friend, a spouse, a loved one, or a brother or sister that has been affected by cancer,” he said.
Following the survivor’s speech, the annual survivor’s lap around the track took place. The UCHS marching band led survivors as they made their victory lap afterwhich a caregiver lap and fight back lap were made later in the evening.
If you are interested in supporting additional Relay For Life efforts, the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital team sponsor will be hosting Relaying for a Cure Golf Tournament at the Erwin Elks Lodge on Oct. 14. Please contact Lisa Buchanan at 743-1203 for more information.