Relay today, hope for tomorrow
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer in 2013 in the U.S., and about 53,000 of those cases will be in North Carolina.
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. and no cure exists. That is why the American Cancer Society encourages communities to become involved in finding a cure through local Relay for Life events.
No one thinks it will happen to someone close to them, but the reality is that cancer claims the lives of one out of every four people in the U.S. Relay for Life of West Haywood County and Relay for Life of Canton are hoping to bring more attention to the disease and help fund cancer research.
Katrina Wyatt of Waynesville has been involved with Relay for Life for three years.
“Our church got involved, but the more it affected my family, the more we got involved,” she said.
Katrina’s mother, Nancy Wyatt, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
“I was really surprised because I had gone to the doctor to see why my legs and feet were hurting,” Nancy recalled.
She said she knew something was wrong when the doctor kept doing mammograms and sent her immediately to get an ultrasound followed by a biopsy. The result was a stage 3-4 cancerous tumor the size of a quarter, she said.
Nancy had surgery two days before Thanksgiving to have it removed. She started chemotherapy in January and went through 37 radiation treatments.
“I have two daughters, a son and a daughter-in-law and my church family. They’re truly what got me through it,” she said. “I tried to make it on my own and be strong for my kids. I didn’t want to let them know how I felt.”
Today, Nancy is cancer free and just had a second mastectomy last week as a precaution. Since the doctors consider her high-risk for the cancer to return, she made the decision herself to have the procedure done. She plans to walk in the Relay for Life Survivor Lap, which is a tradition that helps kick-off the event.
“I never really thought about Relay for Life until it happened to me,” she said. “I decided if I could save just one woman from going through what I went through, it was worth it.”
Nancy’s hope is that some day the money raised through Relay for Life will help cancer researchers find a cure, or at least help detect cancer quicker. In the meantime, she encourages all women to get their annual mammograms, which are critical for an early diagnosis.
“I put my mammogram off for two years – if I hadn’t I may not have been as far along as I was,” she said.
Relay for Life kicked off in Haywood County on Jan. 29 and teams are already signing up for the May events. The West Haywood Relay will start at 6 p.m. May 10 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. The Canton Relay event will begin at 6 p.m. May 17 at the Canton Recreation Park.
According to Randi Smith with ACS, the Canton event has 37 teams and 181 participants so far that have raised $2,814. The West Haywood Relay event has 16 teams and 47 participants that have raised $1,495.
Stephany Smathers, West Haywood Relay chairwoman, said the goal this year is to raise $50,000 for ACS. Last year, West Haywood raised $49,240 with 515 participants. The Canton Relay raised $78,628 with 810 participants.
“Our goal is to have as many teams as possible because the more our community gets involved, the more awareness we can raise,” she said.
This will be Smathers’ third year participating in the event and her first year serving as chairwoman. As the owner of Pink Regalia in Clyde, a custom bra store, she often meets women who’ve been affected by cancer.
“I meet all kinds of people whose lives have been touched with cancer – my great-grandmother had cancer that ultimately took her life,” she said. Almost everyone has been touched by it and I want to fight it and find cure for it.”
West Haywood hopes to have plenty of activities and entertainment to keep people involved all night long. The next team captain meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. March 12 at the Bethea Welcome Center at Lake Junaluska.
Smathers encourages team captains to come and meet others while brainstorming about fundraiser ideas.
“Creating a team can seem like a huge undertaking, but we can help you with all of that,” she said.
To join or start a Relay team, visit www.relayforlife.org and search for a local event.