Gina Buchanan, a cancer survivor, offers a thumbs up during the Survivor Lap at last year’s Relay for Life, which raised more than $100,000 toward cancer research./Courtesy photo

How to save a life

New study gives Durangoans a chance to make a difference
by Tracy Chamberlin

It might seem obvious today, but before the first Cancer Prevention Study in the 1950s, the link between smoking and lung cancer was unknown.
Since then, new treatment options and prevention tactics have emerged, increasing the odds that the next person to develop the disease will also be the next survivor.

“We’re not calling it ‘hope’ just to call it ‘hope.’ There’s real hope on the horizon,” said Cheryl Schou, local community relations organizer for the American Cancer Society.

That hope is the direct result of research like the Cancer Prevention Study III, or CPS-3 – which Durango was chosen to be a part of.
Residents now have the chance to not only raise funds and awareness but knowledge that could lead to the next treatment, link or step toward a cure.

“We’re very fortunate to be picked to be a part of it,” Schou said. “This is once in a lifetime.”

The American Cancer Society is hosting an enrollment booth for the study during the La Plata County Relay for Life at 5:30 p.m. Fri., July 13, at Ray Dennison Memorial Field at Fort Lewis College.

The hope is to enlist 500,000 people – but it’s not about getting as many people to sign up as possible. It’s about accurately representing a variety of environments and lifestyles. Durango was chosen because it is a piece of the American puzzle.

The goal of the study is to understand how environment and lifestyle factors contribute to, cause or prevent cancer. By examining what different participants in different parts of the country are exposed to, researchers can begin to make connections between cancer and what triggers it. These findings could lead to advances in treatment and prevention.

“It takes a lot of people participating to find those relationships,” said CPS-3 Volunteer Chair Nicole Pinkerton.

The first study of this kind helped link the effects of 4 cigarette smoking to cancer by looking at 188,000 men from 1952-55. That was followed by Cancer Prevention Study I, which expanded the scope of potential factors beyond cigarettes and its participants to 1 million men and women. It lasted from 1959-72.

Next up was CPS II, which began in 1982 and is ongoing. Researchers are learning how environment and lifestyle can increase or decrease cancer risk. In 1992, that study was opened up to include nutritional factors.

However, with the most recent study decades old and a changing landscape of environmental and lifestyle influences, the Cancer Society has turned to a new generation for CPS-3.

Participants need to be between ages 30-65 and cannot have personal history of cancer. That doesn’t include basal or squamous cell skin cancer, nonmelanoma cancers and the most common type. Lastly, anyone wishing to join the study has to make the long-term commitment to fill out periodic questionnaires over the next 20 to 30 years.

“The expectation is that it’s not going to be a burden,” Pinkerton said.

Enrollment is expected to take about 30 to 60 minutes. There’s a consent form to sign, survey to complete and waist measurements are taken, along with a blood sample – about the equivalent of a routine doctor’s visit.

Once the initial enrollment is complete, participants receive follow-up surveys in the mail every one to two years.

Although they are two separate events, the study and the relay go hand in hand. “The relay is the fund-raiser. (The study) is one of the ways that money is utilized,” Pinkerton said.

The La Plata County Relay for Life raised $100,000 last year, and organizers are hopeful for the same this year. Currently, 400 people are registered, but Schou said the number could go as high as 600 by relay night.

Since its inception, the relay has raised more than $4.5 billion, and now boasts 5,200 events around the globe.

It all began in 1986 when one man, Dr. Gordy Klatt, rounded the track at Baker Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., for 24 hours straight.

Sometimes he walked, sometimes he ran and folks could join him for 30 minutes by donating just $25 to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Eventually, he racked up 83 miles and $27,000.

The following year in Tacoma, 19 teams got together for the “City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer” and raised $33,000 – and with that, the Relay for Life was born.

This year, Klatt was diagnosed with stomach cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. Still he found time to attend the event in Tacoma and joined in on the walk around the track.

Many of the relays around the country are honoring Klatt, and Durango is no exception.

One thing they are doing is lighting luminarias in his honor. The small, white bags that line the track also will serve as reminders of survivors, caregivers, loved ones and those who have been lost. Once the sun goes down, the lights will be turned off and one lap will be taken in silence to memory all those affected by the disease. Schou called it “magical.”

The relay gets under way at 6 p.m. Fri., July 13, with the first lap, the “Survivor’s Lap.” One survivor and one caregiver will address the crowd before it heads off. Caregivers go in one direction and survivors in the other until they meet in the middle. Schou said the crowds cheer as the survivors and caregivers come together because, cancer is “not just a one-person journey.”

About 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year alone, and 22,820 of those will be Colorado residents. The odds of a man developing cancer in his lifetime are one in two. For women, the odds are one in three.

And, although the number of incidents is on the rise, so is the number of survivors. The five-year survival rate for patients is 67 percent, up from 49 percent in the 1970s, and the overall cancer death rate is on the decline.

“This is an opportunity to get involved, to be a part of the solution,” Schou said. “It’s not going to come along again ... Do it for your children. Do it for your grandchildren. Do it for the community.”

Time is the trade. Some will give a little time to join the study; others could get a lot more when they become the next cancer survivor.

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