Changes in the wind for local Relay for Life event

by By Cristin Parker

To help keep participation up and interest strong, organizers are making a few changes to Cherokee County’s 2019 Relay for Life event.

This year the annual cancer fundraising event is being moved to the courthouse square in downtown Rusk and is set for 4-8 p.m., Saturday, May 4.

“We’re extremely grateful to the Jacksonville Middle School for allowing us to use their campus for so many years,” Relay committee member Shelly Lipe said. “In changing the venue this year, we feel like it’ll generate renewed interest and maybe make it more accessible to people who haven’t been involved before.”

Committee member Regina Brown added, “Everything changes and evolves so that’s what we’re trying to do, too, to keep things fresh.”

American Cancer Society Community Development Manager Judy Sheffield said Relay participation has started to decline, both at the local level and across the nation, over the last few years and she and the local committee members wanted to try to keep the Cherokee County event’s momentum going strong.

“We’re definitely encouraging cancer survivors and caregivers to come out and participate in the new location,” Sheffield said. “We always love to see the old friends we’ve made over the years, and we’d like the chance to meet some new friends this year, too.”

The theme for this year’s Relay for Life is Destination: the Cure and teams are urged to utilize a transportation theme in their fundraising events.

To register a Relay team, call Eliana Borja, (903) 617-4636, or visit To sponsor the Cherokee County Relay for Life event, contact Judy Sheffield, or call (936) 634-2940.

“It’s really easy to register a team on our website and our new app,” committee member Kenny Nelson said. “Just go to the website,, plug in your zip code and either register there or download the app to register that way.”

A Relay for Life planning meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m., Monday, March 18, N. SH 135, Jacksonville. Call Cindy Kline, (903) 795-3604, or email for directions.

This year’s event marks 21 years Cherokee County residents have relayed. In the more than two decades, the local event has grown to be an award-winner.

In 2008, the county’s event won the ACS’s Excellence in Fundraising award and in 2017 Cherokee County’s Taco Bell team won the Nationwide Teams of Excellence award, which recognizes all Relay teams that raise $50,000 or more.

“In the 20 years we’ve been Relaying, Cherokee County has raised over $3 million to help fight this terrible, terrible disease,” longtime event organizer Cindy Kline said during the 2018 Relay’s opening ceremonies. “There have been several wonderful advancements in diagnosing and treating different forms of cancer, but until we find a cure, there’s still so much more to be done.”

Lake Striker residents Jerry and Elizabeth Halpain had been active Relay participants, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the couple said Relaying became even more important.

“We had volunteered for three years prior to my diagnosis,” survivor Elizabeth Halpain said. “So it means so much to see so many people come out and support Relay and everything it does.”

Jerry Halpain added, “Since my wife was diagnosed, two of our church friends were each also diagnosed, so we’ve been much more active in our Relay.”

Teams are already being formed and fundraising has already commenced. This year’s local goal is to raise $100,000. To date $12,145 has already been raised by the top Cherokee County teams, The Transformers, $10,010 raised; Kidney Krusaders, $1,560 raised; The Mighty Ducts, $575 raised; Weathering the Storm; Team FUMC; and Awesome Stars.

This year’s annual survivor dinner, ‘A Night with the Stars,’ will be held Tuesday, April 9, at The Legacy, 782 CR 1511, Gallatin. Cancer survivors and caregivers to those fighting cancer are all invited to attend. Guest speaker will be Dr. Sasha Vukelja, M.D.

Other events planned to be featured during this year’s Relay include free one-hour exercise workouts, led by Any Garcia; live entertainment; a jalapeno eating contest, sponsored by Whataburger; the traditional luminaria and

According to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) website, the Relay for Life event was started In May 1985, by Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Klatt, who walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Wash., as a fundraiser for the ACS.

“Gordy spent a grueling 24 hours circling the track at the University of Puget Sound,” the ACS website states. “Friends, family, and patients watched and supported him as he walked and ran more than 83.6 miles and raised $27,000 through pledges to help save lives from cancer.”

A stomach cancer survivor himself, Klatt passed away at the age of 71 from heart failure on Aug. 3, 2014.

The ACS website reports, “In 2019 in the U.S., there will be an estimated 1,762,450 new cancer cases and 606,880 cancer deaths – that approximately 4,830 new cases and 1,660 deaths every day.”

In a breakdown by state, Texas is predicted to see 124,890 new cases and 41,300 deaths this year.

The ACS’s annual report, ‘Cancer Statistics, 2019,’ shows the death rate from all cancers combined has declined 27 percent since 1991, because of increased awareness, decreased smoking and advances in early detection and treatment.

“Despite the good news, unfortunately, there are also pieces of the puzzle that have not been solved,” ACS Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP, said in a blog posted on the ACS website. “And to ignore that information is a disservice to those who struggle with cancer and those who have passed because of this dread disease. The reality is we can — indeed, we must — do better.

“We are making progress in reducing the burden of cancer in this country. We have made strides; however, we could do far better. It wouldn’t necessarily take some great new breakthrough drug or procedure, although we are making considerable progress on that front as well.

“No, for many the answer isn’t necessarily the great breakthrough. It’s the everyday blocking and tackling that will continue to make a real difference: healthy lifestyles, access to accurate information (such as that found on our website at and access to care. It’s about making certain everyone has that access no matter their circumstances, no matter where they live.

“If we would do that and continue our research into the causes of cancer and the development of new drugs as well as determining the best ways to use those treatments we already have, then this march towards progress will continue. If we don’t do that, then we have only ourselves and our commitment to hold accountable.”

As the largest private, not-for-profit funder of cancer research, the ACS has invested more than $4.8 billion since 1946.