Local Relay for Life teams gear up to study, fight cancer

The upcoming 2009 Relay for Life events in Rockdale and Newton counties are not just about raising money for cancer research. They're also about being a part of the science that could lead to a cure.

At select Relays across the country, the American Cancer Society is conducting Cancer Prevention Studies for which people between the ages of 30 and 65 may volunteer to participate. Study volunteers will be required to give a blood sample, agree to have their waist measured, complete a short on-site survey and a longer one at home, and fill out follow-up surveys every two years for two decades.

Data from the study will be analyzed to determine how factors such as lifestyle, environment and genetics cause or prevent cancer. Study volunteers do not have to be Relay participants.

"The first thing someone asks when they hear someone else has cancer is if there is anything they can do," said Brian Borgoyne, a Newton Relay for Life organizer whose wife, brother and two sisters have battled cancer. "This is that 'anything' that's going to give you an opportunity to help someone down the road. There's more to giving than just money."

Newton and Rockdale Relays are the only two in Georgia that will be offering the Cancer Prevention Study, known as CPS-3, this year. Past sites include Gwinnett, Henry and DeKalb counties. Because the goal is to enroll 500,000 participants over a five-year period, the ACS chooses Relays that are well-organized and successful. Both Rockdale and Newton Relays draw between 2,000 and 3,000 people.

"(The studies are conducted) typically at the larger events," explained Michelle Meyer, ACS staff partner for the Rockdale Relay.

Newton County Relay for Life takes place on April 24-25 at The Church in Covington, 11975 Highway 142 in Oxford, a new venue for the event which is usually held at Sharp Stadium. Rockdale County Relay for Life is set for May 1-2 at the Georgia International Horse Park, 1996 Centennial Olympic Parkway in Conyers.

Both events feature similar schedules with survivor receptions at 5 p.m., the Relay kick-off (led by a survivor lap) at 7 p.m., and, at 9 p.m. for Rockdale and 10 p.m. for Newton, luminary ceremonies to honor cancer survivors and those who have died from the disease.

During the actual event, Relay for Life team members take turns walking around a track, keeping up the pace all night until the next morning when closing ceremonies occur at roughly 7 a.m.

"When the sun goes down represents when you find out you have cancer; the longest period is the evening and you get support from the people walking for you and helping you. At the end of night, the sun comes up and there are better days ahead," Borgoyne said.

Relay teams raise money throughout the year by hosting events such as chili cook-offs, breakfasts, luncheons, yard sales, casual days at work and motorcycle rides. Both counties also had Dimes Make a Difference campaigns in which participants filled as many 20-ounce bottles as they could with dimes.

"In these tough economic times, every little penny counts," said Borgoyne.

In 2008, both Rockdale and Newton county Relays each raised over $300,000; Newton's goal this year is roughly $302,000 and Rockdale's is $275,000. All money raised goes to the American Cancer Society for cancer research, detection, prevention, education and advocacy.

The evenings of the Relay for Life events are almost a festival atmosphere, said Borgoyne, with live entertainment, inflatables for kids, food and other items for sale and games. He encourages even those who aren't on a team to come by and enjoy the Relay, especially to participate in the CPS-3. Enrollment hours for the Newton Relay CPS-3 are 5 to 10 p.m. and enrollment hours for Rockdale's CPS-3 are from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Rockdale Relay organizer Nicole Gilliland said the highlight of Relay for her is the lighting of the luminaries, which are candles placed inside of paper bags; each luminary represents a cancer survivor or casualty.

"It's a mix. There's a happy part and a tearjerker part. During the luminary ceremony, it's sad to think of the ones lost but when you see the survivors walk the lap, you know that every dollar you raised does make a difference," said Gilliland.

E-mail Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If you go

· What: Newton Relay for Life

· When: April 24 and 25, 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

· Where: The Church in Covington, 11975 Highway 142 in Oxford

· Cost: No admission fee; items will be sold for fundraising purposes

· Info: Call American Cancer Society representative Victoria Patrick at 770-307-7956 or e-mail victoria.patrick@cancer.org.

· What: Rockdale County Relay for Life

· When: May 1 and 2, 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

· Where: Georgia International Horse Park, 1996 Centennial Olympic Parkway in Conyers

· Cost: No admission fee; items will be sold for fundraising purposes

· Info: Call American Cancer Society representative Michelle Meyer at 404-582-6114 or e-mail michelle.meyer@cancer.org.