Relay for Life of Virginia’s Blue Ridge kicks off campaign

Vinton, Roanoke City, and Botetourt County have joined forces to form the Relay for Life of Virginia’s Blue Ridge for the 2018 Relay campaign. Their kick-off meeting was held at the Vinton War Memorial on January 29. Members of the Event Leadership Team are shown.

The newly formed Relay for Life of Virginia’s Blue Ridge kicked off the 2018 campaign at the Vinton War Memorial on January 29.

In past years, Vinton has held its own Relay for Life event. This year the American Cancer Society asked several relays in the area to combine, in an effort to be better stewards of the donor dollar.

Roanoke City, Botetourt County, and Vinton are among those relays who have elected to combine forces to raise funds for cancer research and programs.

The Relay for Life of Virginia’s Blue Ridge is scheduled for May 18 at Rivers Edge North in Roanoke (the site of the old Victory Stadium). It will run from 6 p.m. until midnight.

The traditional Survivor’s Reception, which in past years has been part of the Relay event itself, will instead be held at the Vinton War Memorial on May 4 at 6 p.m.

Carolyn Williams and Angie Chewning have served as co-chairs for the Vinton Relay for several years and will continue to work on the Event Leadership Team (ELT), along with past co-chairs from Roanoke City, Patrick McKee and John Cornett, and Botetourt chair Rob Poyner.

Other ELT members include B.J. Hutchison, Vicky Zimmerman, Tina Hostetter, Megan Motley, Dottie Booze, Suzy Lawrence, Tammy Lawhorn, Sandra Stubbs, Barbara and Mike Hutkin, Michelle Poyner, and Sherry Williams.

The kick-off on January 29 at the War Memorial included the traditional potluck celebration followed by a program hosted by Courtney Baker, Community Manager for ACS for Relay for Life.

Baker welcomed a crowd of about 100 at the War Memorial, thanking them for coming together to work as a team for the cause of finding a cure for cancer. She reminded them that although they will face challenges in combining three Relays into one, “it’s not about locality”– it’s about those diagnosed with cancer, fighting cancer; those who have lost the battle, and those who have survived.

She announced that this year’s theme will be “Hoping for a Holiday” from cancer.

The intensity of the fight against cancer was highlighted with the presentation of a video featuring Jeff Ross, a passionately dedicated Relay worker, described as a superstar of the ACS and a member of the Relay for Life Hall of Fame.

Ross became a warrior in the fight against cancer when he lost his mother, Mildred Ross Allen, to a rare form of gastric cancer. She survived only 29 days after her diagnosis to a cancer for which there was no treatment and no cure. He made it his life’s purpose to support the ACS through the Relay for Life program and has worked in the program for 16 years.

He said he thought he had paid his dues in the fight against cancer, but then about five years ago his wife Tammy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer just after the birth of their son. She is now in full remission. He credits the work of the ACS in its research for a cure.

“The money I raise for the American Cancer Society funds important cancer research, supports cancer patient programs and services, and goes toward other important activities that help save lives from cancer,” said Ross.

According to the ACS, the society was founded in 1913 by 10 doctors and five laypeople in New York City and called the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC). “At that time, a cancer diagnosis meant near certain death. Rarely mentioned in public, this disease was steeped in fear and denial. Doctors sometimes did not tell their patients they had cancer, and patients often did not tell their friends and families that they had been diagnosed with it.”

The Society founders knew they had to raise public awareness about cancer if progress was to be made against the disease.

In 1936, Marjorie G. Illig proposed creating “a legion of volunteers” whose sole purpose was to wage war on cancer. The Women’s Field Army, as they became known, was an enormous success, going into the streets to raise money and educate the public.

In 1935, there were 15,000 people active in cancer control throughout the United States. At the close of 1938, there were 10 times that number. More than anything else, it was the Women’s Field Army that moved the American Cancer Society to the forefront of voluntary health organizations.

In 1945, the ASCC was reorganized as the American Cancer Society. The next year, philanthropist Mary Lasker and her colleagues raised more than $4 million for the Society. One million was used to establish and fund the Society’s groundbreaking research program. In 1947, they began their famous cancer signals campaign, a public education effort about the signs and symptoms of cancer.

Around the same time, Dr. Sidney Farber, one of the Society’s first research grantees, achieved the first temporary cancer remission in a child with acute leukemia, opening the modern era of chemotherapy for cancer treatment. It was the beginning of how scientists the American Cancer Society supported early in their careers would go on to make great leaps in understanding and stopping cancer.

The ACS says that Society-funded researchers have contributed to nearly every major cancer research breakthrough in the almost 70 years since the Society’s research program began– “They’ve helped establish the link between cancer and smoking; demonstrated the effectiveness of the Pap test; developed cancer-fighting drugs and biological response modifiers such as interferon; dramatically increased the cure rate for childhood leukemia; proven the safety and effectiveness of mammography; and much more.”

Since 1946, the American Cancer Society has invested more than $4 billion in research, recognizing and providing the funding 47 researchers needed to go on to win the Nobel Prize.

In the ’60s, the Society was instrumental in the development of the Surgeon General’s report on the link between smoking and cancer.

Their advocacy later contributed to the passage of the National Cancer Act in 1971, which granted special funds and authority to expand the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and revolutionized the war on cancer.

As National Institutes of Health funding has diminished, the Society has allocated more research grants for helping promising young medical researchers enter the cancer field.

The ACS says it is proud to have contributed to the work that has resulted in a 25 percent drop in the overall cancer death rate in the United States between 1991 and 2014– that equates to 2.1 million fewer cancer deaths and a 50 percent drop in smoking rates.

There is now a global grassroots force made up of millions of volunteers “fighting for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community.”

More information on the upcoming Relay for Life of Virginia’s Blue Ridge is available on the website at

Their next Relay meeting is scheduled for February 20 at William Byrd High School, followed by meetings at St. Mark’s UMC in Daleville on March 20, and Cambria Suites in Roanoke on April 17 and May 15. All meetings are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

“If you have been involved with Vinton Relay for Life for the past 10 years, please continue the fight,” urge Williams and Chewning.

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