By David Sharp
Entertainers performed while area families celebrated victories over cancer, and honored those taken by the dread disease at the 2007 American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Knox County.
The June 8-9 event was held on the Edina city square beginning at 6PM and ending at 6AM. Approximately 500 people participated in a community support candlelight walk around 1168 Luminaries sold by Relay supporters. The Luminary sales established a new record for the seven-year-old Knox County Relay For Life.
Knox County American Cancer Society Co-Chairmen Betty Couch and Nena Palmer opened festivities, followed by the Reverend Robert Stephens delivering the Invocation. Gary Fagan sang the Star Spangled Banner and led the assembled group in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.
Knox County veterans’ organizations formed an Honor Guard leading the Relay’s first lap.
Honored cancer survivors on the opening circuit were 58 in number. Caregivers who helped those survivors win their personal battle with cancer joined survivors on the second lap.
American Cancer Society staff person Brenda Carlin commented on the Knox County Relay For Life. "I consider these our rural Relays," said Carlin.
"Adair County and Macon have bigger Relays, but per capita they don’t do as well as the small communities. I think it is because everyone knows everyone else. There are certain national standards we have to meet. Going overnight is a big thing because cancer doesn’t stop at night, and neither do we."
"The Tea Light Ceremony after the Luminary ceremony is unique to this community," said Carlin. "They just take another minute to honor or remember their loved ones. The volunteers in this community are take charge. For the most part I get to come here and enjoy the event."
Knox County received a national award in 2003 or 2004 according to Brenda Carlin for the number of cancer survivors participating in the Survivors Lap. About $300,000 is raised annually for cancer research in Northeast Missouri.
Nine Relay For Life teams offered delicious food and other items for sale during the fundraising event. The Hawkins Insurance team sold 96 walking tacos, raising around $400 during the first three hours.
Another hot selling item was the Money Changers (Citizens Bank of Edina) Monkey Tails and banana splits. The Relay offers some of the best culinary opportunities of any event held in Knox County each year.
Dedicated workers provided fun and entertainment, but the serious side of the event was always there. The assembled cancer survivors represented about 1.5% of Knox County’s current population. The number swells when taking into account those with Knox County roots currently residing to other communities.
Advances in cancer treatment and research have extended life for many people around the globe. Edina resident Gary Waite was diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago. Gary and his wife Marilyn credited early detection and good local health care when asked to relive his victory over cancer for this story.
"My first reaction wasn’t printable," said Gary Waite when asked his first thought when told the news no one wants to hear. Surgery and chemotherapy were prescribed treatments.
"It was tough, but it was short," said Waite of his approximate three-month recovery period. "It’s a good thing, I hope they keep it up," commented Waite regarding the Relay For Life. "It (will raise) a significant amount for such a small community.
"(The Relay) focuses on the key thing of early detection and the research that events like this provide that gave him the treatment to be successful and survive," said Marilyn Waite.
"You have that full range of emotions, up and down," said Marilyn Waite of the battle waged by cancer patients and their families. "Together, we got through it."
"She knew when to leave me alone," said Gary Waite of Marilyn Waite’s support during his recovery. "That’s the way I like to suffer is alone. The point I would like to make is that early detection is just everything. The earlier you find it, the better off you are going to be."
"I had enough sense to know something was wrong," said Gary Waite. "Dr. John Sparks had enough sense to smell a rat and it went from there." Marilyn Waite wished to give Dr. Sparks a lot of credit in her husband’s cancer survival story.
"His positive attitude was key to his following the treatment protocol, surviving (cancer) and continuing to thrive today," said Marilyn Waite. "After 11 years of this, for my 60th birthday I’m going mountain climbing," said Gary Waite.
Final numbers were not available at press time, but Edina resident Betty Couch stated the Relay For Life had raised over $23,000 before the event began. The Knox County American Cancer Society has an upcoming golf tournament in July. Both Betty Couch and Nena Palmer stated that the Relay was a year round endeavor, and not just a one-night event.
The moving Luminary ceremony featured people lighting candles in honor of survivors, and in memory of those felled by cancer. Knox County’s Relay For Life has a unique moment when community members march around the lighted Luminaries holding candles. The sea of area residents is seldom observed in modern Knox County.
The Luminary ceremony was followed by the popular lip synch contest. The Knox County Nursing Home team successfully defended their Lip Synch championship for the third straight year.
The Money Changers placed second. Brady James and Robert Anderson formed the 40 Somethings two person entertainment group and took third place followed by fourth place C Troup.
"This has really been good weather wise, I think the best we have ever had," said the 30 year plus Knox County cancer fighter. "It is fundraising, and we do need it," said Betty Couch. "It can be a lot of fun. It’s a lot of hard work for just one night. We are trying to raise money for research and for prevention. We have to depend on the people of our county."
"We are a small and economically depressed county," said Couch. "I’m so proud of all our sponsors. The Luminary sales have been unreal. They are way up from other years. We set a goal of $32,000. We are not done tonight. We have our golf tournament coming up. We expect over $2000 from that. We can end up with what we had last year, which was just under $30,000. Our goal is accessible."
"My husband died from cancer in 1972," said Betty Couch in response to a reporter’s question about personal motivation of herself and others involved in the Relay. "At that time he went to the hospital because he was having trouble he thought was arthritis in his back. They diagnosed him with cancer, and in six weeks he was dead."
"They didn’t even have pain management at that time to keep him from suffering," said Betty Couch. "That is some motivation. I lost my stepmother to cancer and some cousins. But mostly I got involved with the local American Cancer Society after I moved to Edina."
The veteran community volunteer talked about the Relay For Life’s origin. "They were encouraging us to do this Relay. We were old, we were a very passé unit and no one wanted to do it. I said we were going to have to do it, or fall behind with everything. No one felt like we could do this," said Couch. "We have progressed."
"Anytime someone says we should keep our money in Knox County, I think that there is no way we could do the treatment needed here," said Co-Chairman Nena Palmer.
"For some reason, cancer is way too popular," said Palmer of the impact on local citizens. "The cures are coming. My nephew was treated in a week for a cancer that would have been incurable ten years ago. He has his new baby here."
"I can’t stress enough that when we go to these Relays we have cancer survivors that stand up and talk about the treatments they had to go through 15 years ago versus the treatments available today," said Palmer.
"It’s unbelievable how simple it has gotten due to the research. I’m very blessed to have people in our American Cancer Society unit like Betty Couch, Janice McGinnis, Erlene Kelly, Carolee Bishop and Linda Banks. They have been involved for years."
"They are the backbone of our unit," said Nena Palmer. "We need to get more people involved. When it is our turn to lead, we will be prepared. If anyone wants to have a team next year, we will meet June 18 at a Relay wrap up meeting. We will meet in September 2007 to start our plans for next year.”
By David Sharp