It's not every day that a community comes together for a common cause, but in Gwinnett County, an incredible unity of community has occurred annually for the past 18 years.
Thousands of residents from school, church, civic and corporate communities have unified for an overnight team event to celebrate cancer survivorship, to remember those who've lost their battle, and to stand up tall and strong to raise funds and awareness to eliminate cancer.
Through the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, this culminating annual event is preceded by many months of team and individual efforts. These folks take action on their decision to make a difference. They refuse to helplessly sit by and watch those they love suffer from this devastating disease -- a disease that is responsible for one in two men and one in three women in their lifetime having to hear the words, "You have cancer."
Relay for Life has evolved into a worldwide movement to eliminate cancer and for the last nine years, Gwinnett County has held the rank of being the No. 1 Relay For Life community in the world. That is an incredible accomplishment given there are more than 5,100 Relay For Life events across the nation and more than 22 throughout the rest of the world. Relay For Life efforts fuel life-saving progress in cancer treatment, early detection and prevention, and in improving the patient's quality of life through supporting programs and services.
Being the leader in the fight was not achieved by luck but rather by the love, commitment and support of this great community. Nor was this a fluke, as our nine-year reign at the top can attest. This accomplishment cannot be attributed to the generosity of a single contributor -- but by the thousands of volunteers who stepped up to make a difference. Gwinnett is Great -- and the world over, other groups have modeled their efforts after ours. As a result, each day the American Cancer Society is making new strides in the battle and we are seeing results.
The organization just released their annual cancer snapshot, Cancer Facts and Figures 2011, the most widely quoted source of cancer statistics in the world. This year's publication shares some great news:
* Since 1990, cancer death rates have dropped 22 percent for American men and 14 percent for women.
* The decline translates to nearly 900,000 cancer deaths avoided.
The report also reminds us there is still work to be done. Even with all of the progress, this year more than 1.5 million Americans will hear those words, "you have cancer" and more than 500,000 lives will be claimed by this devastating disease.
Being the No. 1 community in the world in the fight against cancer is something that thousands of passionate Relayers have taken great joy in. The results of their dedication have sent a message to our community of over 21,000 cancer survivors that Gwinnett's support and commitment to end the suffering from cancer is second to none. Unfortunately, this year, our position as No. 1 is at risk of being claimed by another community. Bakersfield, Calif., is currently ahead of Gwinnett and is preparing to claim the title.
I am so proud to report that Gwinnett Relayers are responsible for raising funds in excess of $1.9 million for the 2011 Relay season -- a major accomplishment during tough economic times. The event was held on May 6-7 and the 2011 Relay season will officially end on Aug. 31. The economy has created challenging times for fundraising, but cancer doesn't slow with a down economy. We must continue to move forward in the fight. Therefore, it is critical to invite and encourage more people to give a little to help reach the goal.
If each and every person who reads this would respond in support by making a donation, we could exceed our $2.2 million dollar goal and keep the title for 10 years running. Together, we can do this.
Cancer is a disease that does not discriminate, it does not play fair, and it does not sleep. It is my hope that tonight before you go to bed, you will think of everyone you know who has been touched by cancer. I ask that you make a donation to continue the progress being made in ridding the world of the suffering from this disease. Take part and play a role in making the dream of a world without cancer a reality. Here is how you can help make a difference:
Act now. Make a donation to the Gwinnett Relay For Life (www.gwinnettrelayforlife.org) before Aug. 31. Make your donation to the Relay Team named The $100,000 Club (a team created to measure the support from our post-event community outreach). You can also send a check to the American Cancer Society office at 6500 Sugarloaf Parkway, Suite 260, Duluth, Ga. 30097. Please reference the above mentioned team. Encourage those you know to give!
The American Cancer Society is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in every community. If you or someone you know is in need of support due to a cancer diagnosis, call 800-227-2345, or visit the website at www.cancer.org.
Thank your time and heartfelt consideration to become a part of the unity in OUR community to fight back against a disease that steals too many of our loved ones.
Joe Doherty is Co-Chair of the Gwinnett chapter of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.