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Relay for Life kickoff: Everyone’s been touched by cancer

February 22, 2017 GMT

Misty Russell has survived cancer twice, and while she’s grateful for it, there’s something else she wants — for everyone else diagnosed with cancer to survive.

“There’s not a lot of satisfaction in being a survivor until everybody gets the same opportunity,” Russell said.

That’s the goal, too, of the American Cancer Society, and of all the participants in the Relay for Life event held each year in Roseburg and around the country.

Tuesday, some of the teams that will be in the relay gathered to begin organizing and to hear Russell and other speakers address the importance of what they’re doing.

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The Relay for Life is held one weekend each summer in Roseburg, and involves teams walking a track around the clock to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Last year’s relay drew 454 participants on 38 teams, many of them cancer survivors or families of people who have had cancer. Last year, the relay raised $188,877.

Russell received her first cancer diagnosis when her son was just 2 years old.

Though she was a young woman, she was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in her leg that more commonly strikes children. She was told she would lose the leg, but a doctor at Oregon Health & Science University was able to save it. Two years ago, she received a second diagnosis. This time, it was breast cancer.

Today, she’s cancer free and feels great, she said. She feels “incredibly blessed” to be a survivor. She just wishes every cancer patient could have the same outcome she did.

“It’s a little bit empty to stand here and say I survived and that makes me special, because like you I am incredibly touched by family members’ and friends’ and other people’s stories, and they don’t always get the outcome that I do,” she said. That, she said, is why she’s involved with Relay for Life.

“The goal is that everybody gets to be triumphant, and not just some of us,” she said.

Jenny Kluver, human resources specialist for Roseburg Forest Products, said her company worked with the United Way to get payroll deductions to contribute toward Relay for Life. She said RFP raised about $1 million, including matching funds from the company, last year.

For Erin Lyons, participating in Relay for Life is all about honoring her dad, Mike Lyons, who died of cancer in 2013.

“Ever since he passed away, we’ve been doing it just for him,” she said, while sitting at a table waiting for the speeches to begin.

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Her mother Vicki Lyons said the family first participated in Relay for Life with Mike Lyons before he died.

“We promised him we would continue it,” she said.

The Lyons are part of the Vine Street Baptist Church team. A couple years ago, the team raised $8,900 through fundraisers like a chili cookoff and dessert auction.

Kris Eichenbusch, another member of the Vine Street Baptist team, is a cancer survivor who hopes the money the team raises will help find a cure for cancer.

“I just want to see it go away,” she said.

Brenda Webber, senior manager for the Relay for Life at the American Cancer Society’s Eugene office, said Tuesday the donations people make through the Relay for Life make a big difference.

The American Cancer Society has funded research into all types of cancer, and encouraged preventative measures like colonoscopies, mammograms and tobacco-free workplaces.

And it’s working, she said. When the American Cancer Society was founded just over 100 years ago, one in 10 cancer patients survived. Today, two out of three survive.

Webber said the Relay for Life is the organization’s biggest fundraiser.

“We’re nickel and diming cancer to death,” Webber said.

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