Relay for Life co-chairs, from left, Lavonne Mensink and Sue Sikkink, were joined by American Cancer Society staff members, Ross Messick and Rich Kramer to help inspire new and existing Relay for Life volunteers and team leaders last Monday evening. The group met in the Relay for Life room at the Harmony Community Center, which is adorned with many informational and inspiring posters.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->SUBMITTED PHOTO
Relay for Life co-chairs, from left, Lavonne Mensink and Sue Sikkink, were joined by American Cancer Society staff members, Ross Messick and Rich Kramer to help inspire new and existing Relay for Life volunteers and team leaders last Monday evening. The group met in the Relay for Life room at the Harmony Community Center, which is adorned with many informational and inspiring posters.

SUBMITTED PHOTO
"It was a fantastic meeting," said Relay for Life Co-chair Sue Sikkink of Harmony. She was describing the captains meeting that was held last Monday evening, Feb. 25, in the Harmony Community Center.

She reported that 14 enthusiastic team members and captains were present and filled with questions and reports of activity from their teams.

"Momentum is building for another successful Relay on July 12," she said. "Several new teams were added and a volunteer was found to organize bingo!"

One of the most exciting parts of the meeting was seeing that several young people will be getting involved with this year's fundraising and event planning. "It is great to see young people step up to the plate and volunteer," she said. As an example, she noted that Abby Hanson, a 17-year-old from Canton, will be heading up the bingo event and is also forming a new team.

If one is not yet on a team or is interested in forming a new team, Sikkink emphasized that it is NOT too late. "We are always looking for new teams and team members. Go to relayforlife.org/fillmoremn and sign up your team or join an existing team," she added.

Ross Messick and Rich Kramer, community relations representatives from the American Cancer Society, explained the mission of Relay for Life and how the money that is raised in Fillmore County is used for research, operating Hope Lodge, helping women rebuild their self-confidence through the Look Good/Feel Good program and others.

Funding research is one of the greatest contributions that is funded through the community fundraising events, said Messick. "We like to support bright, young researchers," he said. "And we are proud to have invested in over 46 people who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes since 1946."

Messick stated there is $2.3 million invested at Mayo Clinic right now for research. Funding is also given to the University of Minnesota, where many of those young researchers start out. Nationally, there is $500 million invested in research.

The American Cancer Society research was instrumental in getting warning labels put on cigarette packages and was the first to link smoking to cancer in the 1950s.

Messick also added that because of the research being done to find cures and treatments for cancer, he is a cancer survivor. "My uncle died 50 years ago from the same form of cancer I was diagnosed with," Messick shared. "Now, it is a curable cancer."

Another resource that is important and has been made possible due to the funding that comes from Relay for Life events such as this, are the individuals that work right at the Mayo Clinic. "Two of our staff are located right at the clinic and meet with newly-diagnosed patients and families to help them find the resources that can help them," he explained. "They do not limit their services to only the programs we offer, but help people find help in their own hometown."

Public information material is another area that gets funded through the money raised from the Relay for Life events. This includes pamphlets on prevention efforts for tobacco use, sun exposure, early detection and regular screenings.

He shared there are four areas of information that are being promoted - staying well, getting well, finding cures and fighting back.

While staying well includes those prevention efforts, getting well includes the services one may utilize after being diagnosed, such as Hope Lodge or the Look Good/Feel Good program. Finding cures is the research aspect and fighting back includes lobbying and promoting legislation on a governmental level.

"On a personal level, what can you do? You can call your legislators, support this Relay for Life or simply share the information you learn about preventing cancer," Messick added.

He also stressed that the Relay for Life event is truly centered around the cancer survivors. While many who have lost their battles to cancer may be remembered, the survivors are the soul of the Relay, he added. "We celebrate with them and we honor them for their fights."

Fillmore County has traditionally had successful Relay for Life events. In the past few years, Messick noted, the county has been ranked near the top in national fundraising totals. With $148,000 raised in Fillmore County last year, it was ranked fifth in the nation with other communities its size.

"Relay for Life is the number one fundraiser in the country," he added.

Working with Sikkink and her co-chair Lavonne Mensink, Messick said he is confident Fillmore County will continue to be one of the top fundraisers in the nation. "There is a community here, you like to work together and we all have a common goal," he added.

While Messick is retiring before Fillmore County's event in July, he is handing things over to his colleague Rich Kramer, who may be new to his position at the American Cancer Society, but like many others, is familiar with what it means to lose someone to cancer.

"I lost my dad to cancer and my brother is going through it now," he explained. "I am getting excited to become involved and experience these Relay for Life events. I am excited to celebrate, remember and fight back!"

Sikkink, looking back over the meeting held last Monday, noted that she and other volunteers are seeking help from area residents to build a list of cancer survivors in the area.

"During the Relay we celebrate with the survivors and caregivers at a tea that kicks off the event. We are asking for all survivors and caregivers to call one of us, or email, with their name and address so we can include them and invite them to the celebration," she said.

New teams are always welcome and leaders can also contact Sikkink and Mensink with their information to get signed up.

Sikkink did note that there is a change this year in that it is very important for each team and each team member to get signed up on-line in order to get credit for the money they raise and so each person can receive incentive prizes.

"If you are not able to do this yourself, contact one of us to help. Online information will also allow you to email your friends and they can join your team and/or donate money online to you," she added.

One may also plan to attend the next organizational meeting on Monday, March 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the Relay For Life room in the Harmony community center.

During last Monday evening's meeting, four new teams signed up and two more showed interest, Sikkink concluded. "There are potentially 18 teams signed up right now and I am so excited," she shared. "I am really excited to see a lot of new people and some younger people getting involved. We are going to make a difference in helping people celebrate a lot more birthdays!"