What it's all about
About 100 people gathered to kick off the 2013 fundraising year for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life of Sevier County. The annual event will be held May 31-June 1 at Patriot Park.
Co-chair Bryan Atchley told the audience four dates in his life that he'll always remember. The first was when his late wife Cherie was diagnosed with cancer. Two others were the dates he heard separate diagnoses for himself. During the last diagnosis, his doctors also found a potentially deadly aortic aneurysm in his stomach, which was repaired through surgery.
The final date was Dec. 4, 2012, when he learned results from a CT scan and an MRI. "Totally cancer free," he said to a round of applause.
"The way I look at it, I'm two out of three," he said. "Now if you're playing baseball, that's a pretty good average. But now, here's why I'm here tonight. My generation, I'm two out of three. I look back at my parents' generation, I think if the same thing had happened they might have been 1 out of 3. My grandparents' generation, I don't think any of them would have made it what I went through or what my wife went through.
"But what I'm here for tonight, is so my son and daughter's generation can be 3 for 3; diagnosed and beat it," Atchley continued. "So my granddaughter's generation can be zero; it's wiped out. That's what we're here for."
Atchley is co-chairing this year's event with his daughter, Ann-Marie Atchley, with a goal of raising $425,000.
"We have a pretty lofty goal this year ... and we'll get there, I promise you," Atchley said.
Two check presentations gave them a head start, with $4,840 donated by new Relay team Three Bears Gift Shop and $15,000 from Rocky Top Wine Trail. The donation by Three Bears is almost half of the team goal of $10,000.
Before talking of this year's event, ACS staff partner Scott Evans congratulated the Sevier County Relayers for their accomplishments in 2012.
The local Relay ranked in the top 100 among Relay For Life events nationwide, raising $5.18 per capita, and was also selected as an All American Event by the ACS. The local Relay raised $390,000 last year.
Sevier County native Rebecca Parton gave a personal testimony that shows how that money assists cancer patients. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, two days before she would have graduated at the University of Tennessee and six weeks after her first symptoms that something was wrong.
Her first contact with the American Cancer Society came when she got on the ACS website, cancer.org, to get information.
"I didn't know anything about cancer except I thought that's what old people died from," she said. "I didn't know that was what 22-year-old girls got, and it wasn't breast cancer, so where did I fall into this group?"
She chose to do only surgery, not radiation or chemotherapy. Two weeks after surgery, her doctor told her they weren't able to clear out all of the cancer.
"Now that was a bigger blow than the original diagnosis," she said. "Just because I thought I'd done what I was supposed to do."
Her next steps would take her far from home, to Tampa, Fla., where the equipment and treatments she needed were.
"Tampa, Florida is a long way from Seymour, Tennessee," she said. She was worried how she was going to afford a lengthy stay in Tampa. "American Cancer Society — save number two — the Hope Lodge in Tampa, Fla."
The Hope Lodge program through the American Cancer Society provides free lodging for cancer patients who are receiving treatments for three consecutive days or longer.
"That's where I lived for seven weeks," she said. "And some of it by myself. It was the safest that I've ever felt outside of my own home."
Parton also participated in the Look Good Feel Better program while at the lodge. The program gives women in treatment tips and information on how to deal with the effects on skin and hair.
"When came back home it was like I couldn't possibly wait to tell you all about all the stuff the ACS does that you don't even know about, that saved my life," she said. "It might not have saved me physically, but it saved me emotionally. And anyone who knows anything, knows the emotional part is just as important. The ACS saved me and they still do."
Parton is now acting as a caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. "Still, it blows my mind the resources that are available to him and to our family. It's not just for patients, and I didn't know that. It's for caregivers, too."
She encouraged the audience to think of herself and others like her when they are fundraising for Relay For Life.
The next meeting for Sevier County Relay For Life will be Feb. 19, with the time and place to be announced. Meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month. The 2013 event at Patriot Park will lead off at 6 p.m. that Friday with opening ceremonies and the survivors' lap.
The overnight event will include entertainment, food, games and tributes to cancer victims and survivors. New and returning teams are welcome to participate, though not all are required to have a tent site at Relay. The majority of teams raise funds throughout the year, rather than during the Relay event.
More information is available at relayforlife.org/seviertn or by calling 558-4047.