The Harmony American Legion color guard lead the Survivor Lap during the opening ceremonies of the 2013 Relay for Life in Harmony. This year’s Relay will be held on Friday at the Harmony Community Center. Representing the Legion are, from left, Richard Scrabeck, David Whalen, Allen Christianson and Loren Milne. Immediately following them, carrying the banners are, from left, Judy Starr, Nate Osmonson and Elaine DeVries. BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER FILE PHOTO<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
The Harmony American Legion color guard lead the Survivor Lap during the opening ceremonies of the 2013 Relay for Life in Harmony. This year’s Relay will be held on Friday at the Harmony Community Center. Representing the Legion are, from left, Richard Scrabeck, David Whalen, Allen Christianson and Loren Milne. Immediately following them, carrying the banners are, from left, Judy Starr, Nate Osmonson and Elaine DeVries. BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER FILE PHOTO

This Friday evening, the residents of Fillmore County will gather in Harmony for the Relay for Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. With a goal of $128,000, the 29 teams and over 450 team members have already recorded over half that amount.

Additional events and fundraising opportunities will abound on Friday night and Saturday morning, during the actual event at Harmony's community center, so organizers are encouraged as they near their goal.

Once the funds are raised, one may wonder where the money is designated and how it is used by the American Cancer Society.

Relay for Life Specialist Jessica Hemenway, working with the Harmony committee members to plan this year's Relay, recently met with volunteers and explained how the funds are used to fight cancer and to offer support for cancer patients and caregivers.

"Of all the money raised through Relay for Life events, 72 percent of every dollar goes to research and patient support," she explained. "Our goal is actually to increase that amount to 80 to 83 percent by 2018."

Hemenway also explained that the Relay for Life fundraisers make up 45 percent of the American Cancer Society's operating budget.

"The Relay for Life is the largest fundraising event in the world," she added. "It's a pretty huge thing you are a part of."

The American Cancer Society focuses on helping cancer patients get well, stay well, find cures and to fight back. "The work we do affects everyone," Hemenway added. "Our research can affect anyone, anywhere."

A program Hemenway highlighted was the Look Good . . . Feel Better program, which is offered through a collaboration of the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, the American Cancer Society and the Professional Beauty Association/National Cosmetology Association. Each year, the cosmetics industry donates more than one million pieces of cosmetics and skin care products, valued at approximately $10 million.

Hemenway said there are programs at both Gundersen in La Crosse and Mayo Clinic in Rochester. "The program basically offers the resources with a specific purpose to help women feel better," she added.

Look Good . . . Feel Better holds group workshops that teach beauty techniques to female cancer patients to help them combat the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. These lessons include tips for skin care and makeup, nail care techniques, and professional advice on how to deal with hair loss using wigs, scarves, hats, hairpieces and other accessories.

The group program is open to all women with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, or other forms of treatment.

In the United States alone, 700,000 women have participated in the program, which now offers 14,500 workshops nationwide.

Next, Hemenway passed out an informational card that provides the contact number for the American Cancer Society, offering support for cancer patients. "This is one of the best resources we have," she added.

The card states, "Having cancer is hard. Finding help shouldn't be."

Hemenway told the volunteers that the 24-hour hotline, 1-800-227-2345, is open everyday to help cancer patients. Callers will speak to a real person and can provide tools to help with cancer treatments, including information on clinical trials and matching services. The operators can help one find transportation and lodging as well as help with financial and insurance questions. And finally, and maybe most importantly, one can find out about local support groups as well as an online community for cancer patients and their families to find emotional support.

Relay for Life funds also help in the American Cancer Society's fight against cancer. She said the death rate from cancer has decreased 20 percent since 1990. This is due, in part to educational materials encouraging smoking cessations, more effective cancer screenings and more effective cancer treatments.

That death rate could be decreased even further if "we do what we know how to do," Hemenway said.

"It's awesome," she added in regards to the strides the medical community has made against cancer, "but we aren't done yet. We need to continue the research and promote screenings for early detection."

A fact sheet about the role of the American Cancer Society noted, "The American Cancer Society is leading the way in the fight to end cancer: from discovering lifesaving cancer breakthroughs to helping people with cancer get the help, support and resources they need to get well."

Each year, cancer patients receive aid while undergoing treatment. Nationwide, in 2012 16,500 cancer patients received free transportation to medical appointments; nearly 50,000 patients and caregivers saved more than $27 million in lodging costs and over 1 million called the helpline for information. Trained patient navigators helped nearly 89,000 patients understand their cancer diagnosis and get the help they needed.

Whether it's medications to help people live longer or developing effective screening tests, the American Cancer Society has been part of nearly every major cancer breakthrough in recent history.

In the hundreds of researchers supported by the society, with cutting edge ideas early in their careers, 46 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Thanks to the research, the American Cancer Society has awarded more than $3.9 billion in research grants since 1946, resulting in the confirmation that cigarette smoking is linked to lung cancer, obesity is linked to multiple cancers and showed that mammography is the most effective way to find breast cancer early. In addition, that research has led to drugs that treat leukemia and advanced breast cancer.

Finally, the American Cancer Society has been an advocate for transforming cancer from a deadly disease to a treatable disease and a preventable disease. The Cancer Action Network, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, works with lawmakers to increase funding for breast cancer research and ensures access to mammograms for women who need them.

As a result of their advocacy against tobacco, there has been an overall drop in lung cancer death rates within the past two decades due to a 50 percent drop in smoking since the 1960s.

Also, 49 percent of Americans are covered by a comprehensive smoke-free law, protecting them from the effects of second-hand smoke.

On a more local level, Hemenway highlighted how the American Cancer Society benefited those living in Fillmore County for the year 2012. A total of 28 people in Fillmore County were served with patient-related information and programs. A total of 45 patients were given information about treatment options, transportation assistance, patient programs and support services. One-hundred-nineteen individuals from Fillmore County utilized services such as lodging at Hope Lodge in Rochester or transportation to medical appointments.

A local patient also participated in one of the Look Good . . . Feel Better workshops as well.

Free wigs were provided to two individuals and five gift items were given to patients, including bras, prosthesis items and head coverings for patients undergoing treatment.

The American Cancer Society also connected five individuals in the county to additional state, community and non-profit resources to help them through their cancer journey.

Hemenway also noted that she feels these numbers are conservative, knowing that local cancer support groups and resources have been shared without being reported.

In conclusion, Hemenway reiterated the importance of supporting the Relay for Life events as the volunteers continue to "Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back" for those affected by cancer.

"We are so grateful for the volunteers and their commitment to the Relay for Life," Hemenway said as she thanked the committee members and team captains for the fundraising they have already done for this year's Relay for Life.