HOHENFELS, Germany -- Cancer - the very word triggers a host of emotions in people; fear, anger, grief, despair. The statistics are staggering. More than 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. More than 1,500 a day die of the disease.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Advances in medical treatment as well as techniques for early diagnosis have resulted in the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers increasing to 67 percent, up from 49 percent in the mid-70s, according to the American Cancer Society.
Each year, more than one billion dollars is donated to help fund cancer research, and now the Hohenfels Military Community is offering individuals a chance to 'join the fight' by participating in its first 'Relay for Life' event next month.
Relay for Life is a community based fundraising event of the American Cancer Society where teams of participants take turns walking around a track for a designated length of time, often 24 hours, with the goal being having at least one member of your team on the track the entire event.
The event began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, ultimately raising $27,000. The following year, more than 300 people joined him. Today, almost four million people participate in more than 5,200 Relay events in the U.S. each year. It is estimated that Relay for Life has raised more than $5 billion for cancer research since its inception.
Hohenfels' Relay for Life event will be held on June 21 from 4 -- 11 p.m. Yet already, 12 teams have raised an approximate $4,600.
"The fundraising happens before the event itself," said Eilene Campsey, who is organizing the event along with Hohenfels' Army Community Service.
Participants create a team and sign up at the Relay for Life website. They can then email a link to friends, family and coworkers who can post donations to the team directly from the American Cancer Society's website.
"All of that money becomes a part of your team's totals, and 100 percent gets donated to the various institutions that conduct research," said Campsey.
One of the first teams to sign up was the Hohenfels Health Clinic, led by Staff Sgt. Roland Reyes. Reyes said that during the relay, clinic staff will provide patient education aimed at heightening awareness of cancer prevention and early detection.
"As healthcare professionals we have witnessed the toll cancer takes on our patients and their families. Relay for Life allows us the opportunity to honor the survivors and actively participate in the fight against cancer," Reyes said.
Each Relay event across the Nation begins with a 'Survivors Lap' with all the cancer survivors at the event taking the first lap around the track, celebrating their victory over cancer while being cheered on by the other participants.
"The idea of the event is one of celebration; the celebration of survivors, caregivers, and those who have lost the fight along the way," Campsey said.
The other goal is to raise awareness for the resources available to cancer patients.
"Being in the Military and being overseas is unique in trying to manage your medical situation," said Campsey. "We want people to know there are resources out there, there are people who can help them, and there are support groups."
A cancer survivor herself, Campsey has been participating in Relay for Life for 15 years, walking first for her sister-in-law, and then for her brother, both of whom eventually lost the battle with the disease.
"I know how alone I felt (being overseas) and thank goodness my husband could come back from Ukraine, at least for the surgery, but all of those decisions -- what will I do, how many parts will I have chopped off -- I made by myself in the dark of the night," Campsey said.
She's determined to make things better for others battling cancer.
"There are people just like you out there," she said. "The lady sitting next to you might be a survivor and you never knew it."
"Nobody should feel alone," said Campsey. "It's bad enough what you have to do. Doing it alone is even worse."
If you're interested in creating, joining, or donating to a team, visit www.relayforlife.org/hohenfelsmc, or contact ACS at 466-4860.