Relay for Life raises over $41,000 for cancer research

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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After a three-year absence, Relay for Life returned home to the Chris Joseph Track and Field Complex on Friday.

After the drive-thru event in 2020 and subsequent years in the Whitesville Road gymnasium and at Faith Baptist Church, the annual cancer walk returned to the track for the first time since the pandemic started.

The event has raised $41,407.27, but Abby Mitchell, Senior Development Manager with the American Cancer Society (ACS), said money is still coming in toward the $55,000 goal. She said some of the companies involved have agreed to match the funds their teams raised, so the total fundraising amount is expected to increase.

Mitchell said she became involved with the walk in 2017 to support her daughter, Neva.

“My first relay as a participant was in 2017 with my daughter who’s a survivor. We were participants in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in Columbus,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said in 2020, she was asked to chair the event and she later came on as staff for ACS that July.

“They asked me to be the event chair and then COVID happened,” Mitchell said.

The fundraising numbers did drop due to the pandemic but not at first. She said surprisingly, it was a delayed drop in Troup because the participants were good at fundraising ahead of time.

Mitchell said in her first year as event chair in 2021, Troup raised $51,323. The following year saw a steep decline with Troup raising only $27,520.

“What we saw last year was a decrease in sponsorship funds. Like so many people, companies were rebounding, and we were missing huge partnerships,” Mitchell said.

This year hasn’t quite gotten back to pre-COVID numbers, but the fundraising is building back up and the turnout is also improving.

“They’re estimating about 1,100 people [participated] this year. So, I would say that we have vastly improved the turnout,” Mitchell said, noting they had to compete with other things going on in town as well.

“Relay has always been that last Friday in April. So, once people get that back in the habit of that I think we’ll see a build back up,” she said.

Mitchell said the money raised at the event goes to fund cancer research and to help those with cancer.

“The majority of the money stays in Georgia just because of what we are funding,” Mitchell said, adding they currently have eight research grants in the state.

She said their three main focuses are research, their cancer support hotline and Road to Recovery, their volunteer driver system.

The Road to Recovery program uses volunteers to pick you up and take people to and from cancer-related appointments.

“It doesn’t have to necessarily be chemo. It can be surgery. It can be a follow-up doctor’s appointment, post-surgery or post-treatment. It can be just a regular number checks. It doesn’t have to be a chemo treatment,” she said.

Mitchell said their cancer hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 227-2345 to anyone who needs cancer-related assistance, whether they be a caregiver or patient. People can call if they have questions about side effects, advice or need someone to talk to.

“If your caregiver is driving you crazy and you don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to, just call the 800 number and talk to somebody. Get all your complaints out and just let them be a listening ear for a minute,” Mitchell said.

Relay for Life isn’t just a job for Mitchell. For her, it’s personal.

“Being a caregiver and coming with my daughter, it was celebratory that first year. It was humbling, and it really gave us a community,” she said.

Mitchell said she became more involved as a way to continue celebrating her daughter’s recovery and help others who need it.

She said when she came onto ACS staff her perspective shifted to educating and advocating for cancer survivors and their caregivers.

“How can I educate those who have no idea what it’s like to come through a cancer journey, who don’t realize that at any moment you could get a ticket on this ride with a diagnosis? This is not a fun ride to be on,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got a 360-degree view of what Relay means just for our family having been on that ride and come through it. Now I’m trying to work to prevent as much as possible for people in Muscogee County and Troup County.”