Progress seemed to be the theme of the 15th annual Cooperstown/Otsego County Relay For Life as events kicked off with an opening ceremony Friday night.

As Helen Gregory began with some opening remarks she said it was also a celebration of the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday, which is officially Wednesday.

“Many of you may be saying, ‘gee why are we celebrating, there is still cancer, people are still being diagnosed,’” said the American Cancer Society’s staff partner for the local event.

“Yes they are,” she added. “And that is why we keep up the fight.”

Relay For Life is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, and is the world’s largest movement to fight cancer.

According to Gregory, there are 7* people diagnosed with cancer each week in Otsego County alone.

“We have to bring a stop to that,” she said.

According to organizers, there is something to be celebrated because cancer has transformed from deadly to treatable, and from treatable to preventable. Gregory said when the American Cancer Society first became an organization in 1913, there were no survivors.

“Nobody talked about it, it was a death sentence,” she said. “Today, 100 years later, it isn’t. Today, we have 14 million cancer survivors nationwide.”

Bassett Healthcare physician and chief of radiation oncology Dr. Timothy Campbell stuck to the theme of progress as he stepped up to the microphone as the guest speaker of the event.

Campbell said he cannot get through a week of his life without being asked why a cure has not been found.

“I think people ask this question because physicians in oncology have been really lax in our job of really communicating well to people about what we can do, what we need to do and in sharing what progress has been made,” he said. “We also need to define what the goal is. Yes we all want a cure, but cancer is not just one disease, it is many different diseases.”

There probably will not be one big cure, but instead multiple ones, he said, and there have been “huge” improvements in survival rates. 

“In 1970 the survival rates for cancer were about 50/50,” he said. “If you were diagnosed today, your survival rate would be close to 70 percent. It is probably better because that’s based on data from five years ago.”

Improvement is credited to progress in diagnosing cancer at earlier stages and advancements in cancer treatment.

Relay organizers said a large portion of the money raised from the two-day fundraiser will go toward cancer research and patient services.

The event, held at the Cooperstown Dreams Park, is an overnight celebration where team members take turns walking around a track “relay” style. Last year participants raised a record-setting $112,000.

“We are well-positioned going into the event to meet our goal of surpassing that,” said relay co-chairwoman Carla Eckler.

About 450 people and 44 teams are contributing to the efforts, she said. Other happenings Friday night included a survivors’ dinner, haircutting to benefit Pantene Beautiful Lengths to give real hair wigs to women fighting cancer, a fight back ceremony and a luminaria ceremony celebrate survivorship and memories of loved ones lost to cancer.

*Editor's note: This story was changed at 10:25 a.m. May 20 to correct the number of cancer diagnoses in Otsego County. 


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