Relay for Life seeks teams, volunteers

Kaitlin Pomerleau, community manager for the American Cancer Society, left, and Josette Miller, a New Market resident and advocate for cancer research, are seeking volunteers for Relay for Life of Shenandoah County. Kaley Toy/Daily

NEW MARKET – The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network is looking for teams and volunteers for the 20th annual Relay for Life of Shenandoah County.

Kaitlin Pomerleau, community manager for the American Cancer Society, and Josette Miller, a New Market resident and advocate for cancer research, are visiting local businesses for sponsorship of the event as well as creating teams to help fund cancer research.

Pomerleau said, “There are so many different ways you can get involved, volunteering or getting involved with advocacy, helping with fundraising, finding entertainers for the event.”

When the community comes together for this event, a support system can be made, she said. “A lot of people find comfort in the event itself.”

Miller, who recently lost her mother to lung cancer, said meeting others who have been through what she has been through was a tremendous help to her.

“I wanted to meet with people that have been through it,” she said. “It’s one thing to give someone sympathy, but if they’ve been through it and you get empathy from them, you can relate to what they’ve been through and you can share tips that helped.”

A survivor lap will be held during the relay for those who have overcome their diagnosis. A reception and gifts will also be given for those who register as survivors.

Pomerleau said, “The American Cancer Society considers you a survivor from the minute you hear the words ‘you have cancer’ because we know you’re going to get through it. We invited them to come out and feel that support and look at other survivors and see that hope. It’s a powerful thing.”

The relay occurs overnight as a way of showing that those with cancer fight the battle day and night, and so will the relay volunteers.

“Cancer doesn’t sleep so neither should we,” she said.

Those who participate aren’t required to stay overnight. Any time given to the event is appreciated, she said.

She added that the relay is a walk, not a marathon.

“We encourage if you have a big team to have at least one person on the track at all times, but again, it’s not a requirement,” she said.

Throughout the event, awareness and educational pieces will be presented to inform the community about the issues surrounding cancer research, prevention and advocacy.

“Everyone is one degree from cancer,” she said. “Most everyone knows someone who’s been affected by it.”

So far, 21 teams have signed up with over 200 participants for the relay. All three of the county high schools have formed teams and are having a competition among themselves as well. Around $11,000 has been raised so far, with a goal of $100,000.

“We’d love to exceed that goal and see the whole community come out,” Pomerleau added.

The American Cancer Society and the Cancer Action Network are trying to raise awareness about the need for cancer research and support for survivors and their families. In order to make change happen, Pomerleau said the community needs to voice concerns to their local representatives.

“It’s a topic that most everyone can agree upon so it’s not always a hot button issue in campaigning, but that’s why it’s all the more important to raise awareness and call your senators and representatives about the issues because they might be getting thousands of calls about topics like immigration, but nobody is calling about cancer because everyone thinks they’re taking care of it,” she said.

The fee to become a member of the Cancer Action Network is $10 per year. Members receive emails about petitions circulating around the state regarding cancer, as well as training material to help them learn how to speak with local government representatives about advancing cancer-fighting public policy.

“Defeating cancer relies just as much on public policy as it does on research, because the federal government is the No. 1 funder of cancer research,” Pomerleau said.

The Cancer Action Network is a sister organization of the American Cancer Society. Both groups work at the community level, as well as the government level to get public policy on cancer heard by local representatives and the public.

“Here locally, if people are interested in volunteering or are passionate about advocating for cancer patients and their families and for research, then a great way to get involved is to contact us and it is very much linked with the Relay for Life movement as well,” she said.

Local Cancer Action Network meetings will be held in the next few months to discuss the needs of the event, such as entertainment and sponsorship, as well as cancer advocacy in general. The Relay Planning Committee Meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 7 and May 5 at the Woodstock Fire and Rescue training room, and May 26 at the Massanutten Military Academy field.

Relay rally meetings will also be held from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Virginia Extension Office meeting room, April 21 at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, and May 26 at the Massanutten Military Academy gym.

“If anyone has been affected by cancer or is interested in the topic and passionate about it, we encourage them to come join us,” Pomerleau said.

Relay for Life of Shenandoah County will be held from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. June 3 at the Massanutten Military Academy track in Woodstock. This year’s theme will be Light Up The Night.

“We do stop for lightning, but we don’t stop for rain,” she said. “You might think it sucks and your socks are wet and you’re uncomfortable, but then you look around and you see all the other survivors that have been through so much, and you think, ‘I can deal with wet socks for four more hours if my fellow community member went through 16 rounds of chemo.'”

In the case of lightning, the walk will be moved to the gym.

Register for free online at www.relayforlife.org/shenandoahva or call Pomerleau at 540-434-3360 ext. 3 for more information.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com