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Can you believe it!

Features Editor

The 2002 Pike County Relay for Life campaign topped its monetary goal by more than $30,000 in raising $206,135.77 for the American Cancer Society to aid in the fight against cancer.

Rain was pelting down Friday night as members of the Pike County Relay for Life board "flashed" the total on Relay color-coded cards and the crowd cheered, in awe and almost disbelief.

Pike County has never failed to make its Relay goal, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001, cast a somber mood across the nation and there was some thought that this could be the year.

Perhaps, this Relay for Life wasn’t the most flamboyant fund raising campaign. Even the pink flamingos that make their usual "paid" appearance, stayed away. Fund raising efforts seemed to be quieter, but were evidently just as determined, even moreso.

Fifty-nine teams worked to make this year’s total contribution the biggest ever. Thousands supported their efforts with donations and the hope and belief that one day cancer will be conquered.

Maybe this can be the year.

Donna Schubert, co-chair of the event, shook her head in amazement, but spoke with great emotion at the outpouring of giving and caring displayed by the people of Pike County.

"How does something like this happen?" she said "It’s because so many people do so much. Not all contributions are money. That’s the magic of it. No one person, no one business, no one entity causes Relay for Life to be a success. It’s the combination of all the people of Pike County, whether they gave $100 or a dime – their talents or their time. It took a combined effort."

In a year when Relay could have easily come up short, Pike County came up big.

"I think the people of Pike County decided to do something about cancer," Schubert said. "Pike County has had too much experience with cancer. Pike County has taken on this war against cancer and we are winning.

"If you look around the nation for the most determined people, you will find them right here in Pike County."

Joe Cahoon, chief executive officer of the Mid-South Division of the American Cancer Society,

attends only a few Relays each year and chose Pike County this year. He spoke to the crowd, commenting on the exceptional commitment of the people of Pike County to the fight against cancer.

Had Cahoon been able to stay until the midnight hour, he certainly would have stood and applauded a monumental effort by the people of Pike County -a county that is not among the richest in the state gave a awesome amount – $206,135.77!

Cahoon spoke early in the night of the commitment of small communities causes they deemed worthy. He is the CEO of a six-state division of the American Cancer Society. His division continually leads the nation in fund raising for the American Cancer Society.

"Our states are Southern states and people in the South are committed to community and to each other," he said. "This year, our Mid-South Division will have 525 Relay for Life events and raise about $36 million.

"A large percentage of this money will come from small, rural communities where people know and care about each other – communities where people know what is really important in life. Sometimes those who have the least give the most."

Pike County is not a rich county, but it is rich in spirit and rich in commitment to a cause. That is what’s really important, Cahoon said.

WHAT NOW?

WHAT NEXT?

Now that the 2002 Relay for Life campaign is over and the lofty goal set for Pike County has been reached and surpassed, one might ask, what now, what next?

Joe Cahoon was quick to answer.

The fund raising efforts are very important because they provide the American Cancer Society with monies need for research, development and public awareness campaigns, he said.

"How much money will it take to find a cure for cancer and to rid this country of this devastating disease? I don’t know," Cahoon said. "No one knows. But, we know that we have come a long way in winning the battle. Today, 62 percent of those who are diagnosed with cancer are alive five years later. That is great news. That is encouraging news. That is hope."

People are living longer with cancer, more cancers are in remission and more cancer warriors are living with much less pain and much greater

hope because of the advances made in treatment procedures.

But, Cahoon said it is going to take a real grassroots effort to win the battle against cancer.

One-third of all deaths from cancer are related to cigarettes and tobacco, yet, Cahoon said, a clean-air act that would go along way in preventing cancer, died in the Alabama Legislature again this year.

"The people of Alabama are going to have to put pressure on their legislators to pass laws that will save lives," he said. "Relay for Life is not all about dollars.

"It’s about raising awareness about early detection and diagnosis and about ways that we can prevent cancer. Relay is about recruiting people to join the fight against cancer – not just one day, one week or one month but every day, every year."