With just over three weeks to go until the 2018 St. Francois County Relay for Life, members of the Park Hills-Leadington Chamber of Commerce heard a presentation reinforcing the importance of the annual event to fight cancer.
Stephanie Hatfield of the American Cancer Society (ACS), the organization which hosts relays across the country, spoke to the chamber investors on Tuesday at Mineral Area College.
She began her presentation by explaining the ways the ACS uses the raised funds to fight cancer and assist cancer patients.
“The American Cancer Society has evolved over the years by finding out the patient needs across the country to really find out what is keeping people from getting their treatments,” Hatfield said.
She described two programs sponsored by the ACS: Hope Lodge and the Road to Recovery program.
“If you Google ‘Hope Lodge,’ you’ll see there are 32 of them across the country,” she explained. “It is a place where people from Farmington can go to St. Louis to get life-saving treatment and stay at Hope Lodge for free.
“The only thing they provide is food, and we bring in groups of volunteers, business owners, the St. Louis Blues and the St. Louis Cardinals and they cook for our guests. It’s a 43-bed facility and again, it’s free. All the proceeds that we raise in every community support Hope Lodges across the country.”
Hatfield said the facility is vital for families who must make multiple trips to St. Louis for a loved-one’s treatment, with high costs related to multi-day stays.
“When I drive to work every day, I get to see those patients outside waiting for their trams to get to SLU or Siteman,” Hatfield said. “It’s really amazing for me to be able to see that, because I know I’m making a difference every single day.”
On a related note, the Road to Recovery program provides transportation to and from treatments for patients.
“A lot of times, when your loved one is diagnosed with cancer, they have 33 rides back and forth to chemotherapy, radiation, surgical appointments or a visit with their oncologist,” she said. “We have a Road to Recovery program where drivers take those patients to and from cancer treatments — and that’s life-saving.”
The ACS also heavily supports cancer research, which Hatfield said can seem like a vague term, though there are very real strides being made in the search for treatments and cures.
“The American Cancer Society has been a part of every single major medical breakthrough when it comes to cancer,” she said. “In St. Louis alone, we have $6 million in cancer research happening right now at Washington University and SLU. I can tell you, we do not raise $6 million in St. Louis through the American Cancer Society.
“So now we have $6 million in research, a Hope Lodge and a robust transportation program — all funds that are coming back to St. Louis and back to your communities. Those research dollars that we’re raising all over the country are going toward finding the next cure.”
Hatfield pointed to a specific case of Dr. Brian Druker in Seattle, who developed the drug “Gleevec,” which has been shown to put patients with a certain type of leukemia into remission.
“We fund $150 million in cancer research of all types — breast, childhood, lymphoma, brain, liver — we have tons of amazing things going on,” she said. “By 2021, we’re doubling down and we’re going to increase that to $240 million. We know that research is where it’s at, and that it is the endgame.”
Regarding the June 8 Relay for Life at MAC, Hatfield said the event is not only important for the funds it raises, but as a time for people affected by cancer to come together and work toward a common goal.
“People come out and they see their friends and family,” she said. “It’s also a business opportunity, with people networking on the track. But we’re all united by one thing—either a loved one is hurt by cancer or a loved one has passed away from cancer.
“It’s really powerful when you see those luminaria candles lit up around 8 or 9 p.m. and you see the names on the bags and hear those names read. It’s really amazing to see how your community has been touched by cancer for decades.”
Hatfield mentioned the work of the ACS in regard to identifying environmental factors specific to certain areas, such as St. Francois County. Approximately 10 years ago, individuals from the county were a part of “Cancer Prevention Study 3,” which involves tracking people from the county over a long-term period to identify possible environmental factors that contribute to the occurrence of cancer.
“Now we’re studying these people for the next 30 years to really find those links to environmental factors,” she said. “I know I’ve heard from this community about the lead mines and environmental factors in the water.”
Hatfield said all of these things are supported by the local Relays for Life, which is what makes getting involved all the more important. She said 74 cents of every dollar goes back into the organization to provide for research and patient services.
“Lastly, we want to make sure that our communities feel engaged,” she said. “This event could not happen without the help from sponsors. If you’re not a corporate sponsor, there are very reasonable and economic levels that you can get involved with, and it’s a very strong brand to be tied to.”
For more information, to register a team or to get involved with a sponsorship for the 2018 St. Francois County Relay for Life, go to www.relayforlife.org.