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Look at Relay For Life

Aired May 22, 2004 - 08:30   ET


DR. HOLLY FIRFER, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, and welcome to a special edition of CNN HOUSE CALL.
I'm Holly Firfer for Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We come to you from the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life Celebration here in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Now the Relay for Life is an overnight walk to raise awareness and money to fight cancer. Now this is the largest event in the country. They expect more than 8,000 people to take part, and they hope to raise more than $2 million, literally, overnight. But the Relay for Life is more than just fund-raising or even cancer -- it's about life.


FIRFER (voice-over): They are the faces of cancer and those touched by cancer, mothers, daughters, husbands. They are also the faces of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life. Real people who donate their time and put their heart into a project that raises millions for cancer research, more than anything else. Now in its 20th year, the Relay For Life started in Tacoma, Washington, as one doctor's mission to raise money for cancer by doing a 24-hour marathon around a local track. He raised $27,000 in one night. The relay has become the largest fund-raising event in the world helping fund research and treatment for a disease that this year alone will kill more than 1,500 people every day in the United States.

And this year, more than a million people will be diagnosed with cancer. About 1 out of every 2 American men and 1 out of every 3 American women will get cancer at some point in their lifetime. But now more people can ever are surviving cancer, thanks to early detection and improved treatment and, in part, to the Relay For Life. Last year 3 million Americans participated in Relay For Life in thousand of communities across the country. That's 1 in every 100 of Americans taking part.

(on camera): And this event has gone international with walks in places like Singapore, Jamaica, even New Zealand. Now they call it a Relay For Life because cancer patients have their own personal relay for life while battling the disease. Every event begins the same way with the survivors lap. Cancer survivors and their caregivers gather to kick off the relay with an affirmation of life. All the participants in the survivor walk are at various stages of the journey with their disease. Susan Graveline is a two-time cancer survivor. About 10 years ago she started a team of just mothers and daughter. We'll it's grown to three teams and they expect to raise more than $50,000 this year. We caught up with her just after the survivors lap.

SUSAN GRAVELINE: I'm a two-time cancer survivor. I survived cancer 10 years ago. I had a uterine cancer and had to have surgery and fortunately it was caught early so I didn't have any lymph nodes involvement. But five years ago, two months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer again and had surgery and chemo and radiation and all kinds of shots. Went through the whole thing.

FIRFER: How are you doing today?

GRAVELINE: I'm doing great. Thank you.

FIRFER: Cancer is gone?

GRAVELINE: I just got my five-year mark and that's big as a cancer survivor.

FIRFER: Tell me why you feel so important to be involved in relay for life.

GRAVELINE: It was almost like my lifeline. When I was diagnosed the second time, it almost gave me a reason to strive to be a survivor. We had walked -- we had started MDAC, Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer in 1998 and the very first year we raised like $5, 000 with -- for our team. But three weeks after that first relay was when I was diagnoses for the second time. And that's when the mission became very personal for -- definitely for me and our family. But definitely for our team, too, Mothers And Daughters Against Cancer.

FIRFER: Why was it important to get your daughter involved. You were the one fighting cancer. Why did you want mothers and daughters together?

GRAVELINE: Because it's very important to me that my daughter sees that you can overcome a lot of things in your life, and it was very important for me to make sure that she was, OK, and she was not scared of what all was happening because she was only 8-years-old at the time, and my husband Dan and I sat her down and said, you know, mom's got cancer again. But she's going to have to go through surgery. She's going to have to go through chemo and radiation and, you know, an 8-year-old doesn't really understand it that well, but we said we're going to take control of this and we're going to -- when mom's hair falls out, we're going to have a shave my head party, and we did. We did. We called all of her friends over and all of my friends. She took the first cut of my hair and then all of my friends did. Then my husband shaved me down to a mohawk.

FIRFER: Love that. Alex, are you proud of your mom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm proud of her. She's come a long way.

GRAVELINE: Why do you feel it's so important to get involved because it is half yours, mothers and daughters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's true. I think it's just important we raise awareness, and become aware of it and away of people in the community.

GRAVELINE: The cinergy that happens with mothers and daughters has been a wonderful thing for the two of us in our family and it's just very -- the relay means a lot to us.

FIRFER: It's 8:00 p.m. in the evening. That means 16 hours to go. There's no stopping for these teams, which means there's no stopping for us.

ANNOUNCER: At 13, Alina (ph) had a pain in her leg that wouldn't go away. Five years later, she's a cancer survivor on a mission. And -- the moving ceremony at the heart of the Relay For Life. But first, take the daily dose quiz.

What is the leading cause of cancer, A, drug and alcohol use, B, smoking, C, diet or D, sun exposure?



ANNOUNCER: Checking the daily dose quiz -- what is the leading cause of cancer? The answer is, B, smoking, which according the American Cancer Society, causes a third of all cancer deaths.

FIRFER: Although cancer survivors are the heart of the Relay for Life celebration, there are those who are motivated by family members or loved ones who are battling cancer. We met with Duane Downs who has been involved with the walk since 1994. And his group, the Mixed Nuts Bowlers.


FIRFER: Duane, tell me, why your involved in Relay For Life. You yourself are not a cancer victim.


FIRFER: Why your involved?

DOWNS: I'm involved with Relay For Life because I have so many friends that I know and family that are -- been affected by cancer. My mother passed away with cancer back in '65. And when I heard about Relay For Life as a charitable fund-raising thing, I worked at NCR and was a charity involved person. So I went back to work and told the crew, you guys need to get involved. I went to the Mixed Nuts Bowling League that I was a member of and president of the league and said we need to take a group from there because we had an outgoing president of the Atlanta Bowling Association that was a personal friend of many of us and bowled in our league that had liver cancer, just diagnosed.

FIRFER: Your mother suffered from it in the '60s. Your wife was stricken with cancer.

How have you seen treatment change? DOWNS: Much different. My mother didn't know she had cancer until it was much advanced. No mammograms that I remember, no early detection, and they removed her breast, a radical mastectomy. I don't recall radiation or anything at the time that she took. Five years later it came back in other parts of her body. They said we can't do anything and she passed away six months, eight months later. With my wife, Laurel, we found a small lump, she's had checkups and checkups and they found a small lump and it was taken out.

FIRFER: And Laurel, how are you doing?

LAUREL DOWNS, CANCER SURVIVOR: I'm doing great. I'm off medication.

FIRFER: Great.

L. DOWNS: Only did radiation, no chemo. I was very fortunate.

FIRFER: How do you feel?

L. DOWNS: I feel good. Feel great.

FIRFER: Good. Glad to hear that.

L. DOWNS: A lot of family support. It's terrific.

FIRFER: And events like this, hopefully cancer will be a thing of the past?

DOWNS: I hope we will have cancer defeated maybe in our grandkids' lifetime. We obviously found some cures for some types of cancer. We can eliminate cancer, we find colon cancer early, take out a piece of the colon, doesn't come back. But we're not going to kill it all, 150 kinds of cancer in just our lifetime. But we're getting rid of some of them and we're finding treatments, too, for others.

FIRFER: With people like you doing these events, we hope that we can raise that money.

DOWNS: I hope so because research is the key. Finding drugs and finding treatments is the key, and it costs millions and millions of dollars, as you know.

FIRFER: What you are doing is terrific. Congratulations. And Laurel, congratulations. Much health and happiness to you both.

DOWNS: Thank you, Holly. Thank you guys for being here.

FIRFER: So nice to meet you Duane. Keep walking. Keep up the good work.


FIRFER: Every year thousands of people will die from cancer. But in the many years since relay for life began, there have been dramatic changes in research and treatment. We spoke with Dr. Carolyn Bruzozinski about some changes and some breakthroughs for the cure.


DR. CAROLYN BRUZOZINSKI, CANCER RESEARCHER: Twenty-years-ago, we based all of our cancer therapies on the knowledge that we had at that time and at that time what we knew was that cancer was basically a cell that continually divided. So all of our therapies at that time were very general. They attack all living, growing, dividing cells in a body. Not only did you attack the cancer cells, but you attacked other cells that were important to systems in the body, like the immune system. And so there were lots of side effects, and it was a general treatment. It was what we could do at the time because it was the knowledge we had to work with and it was successful to a certain extent. It extended people's lives. But it was certainly not the ultimate. It was like taking a sledgehammer.

Now 20 years later we know so much more about what is happening in various different cancers. We know that only is colon cancer different from breast cancer, but there are different types of breast cancer, there are different types of colon cancers and we're now beginning to tease that out so the therapies we use now are more directed.

FIRFER: An event like this, the Relay For Life, which happens across the country, how important is it in research and funding developments with treat treating and curing cancer?

BRUZOZINSKI: Research for life is a wonderful event on many different levels. As it relates to research. Obviously, first of all it raises a lot of money for research. In terms of the American Cancer Society, last year the relay for life raised $250 million. The research budget for the American Cancer Society last year's fiscal year was $125 million. So Relay itself could have paid for the entire research program. So it's very, very important in terms of funding. Secondly, it's important as a platform, being able to come out and to give information back to survivors, to their families, to all of our constituents to be able to let them know what's going on in cancer research to basically help sustain that hope why everyone is here for hope.

Then finally, and this is an interesting aside. We have researchers at many of our relays giving talks and roaming and talking on teams everywhere and the interesting thing for them is it's very motivating, obviously. Because they see -- they see all of these people rooting for them to find that cure. And you go back into the lab and you don't want to leave, basically. And it's just very motivating on that. So on many different levels, Relay For Life is a really important event.


FIRFER: Well, it's 1:00 A.M. There's nine hours to go at the Relay For Life. We're still here. They're still walking, so don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) Kids for a cure. How some young people are leading the drive against cancer. Their very personal stories coming up.

And how some people manage to stay awake all night at the relay for life.

But first, here's a tip for staying healthy from our bod squad. Of all the various type of fitness equipment that come and go, the treadmill remains a top contender. The number one consumer choice for home exercise equipment, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturer's Association. If you've been work out on your treadmill for a while, you know it can become routine. So, fitness experts recommended, interval train to up the intensity.

JENNIFER RENFROE, CRUNCH FITNESS: You can spend five minutes walking a rather quick pace and then come off the treadmill for two minutes and engage in major muscle groups, doing squats, lunges and have active recovery. So your treadmill time would be your work period. Coming off the treadmill and doing your lunges or squats, bicep or tricep curls would be your active recovery. You'll be working. You'll still be working a major muscle group. And it's a great way to interval train.

FIRFER: Remember to warm up and finish with a cool down. For the bod squad, I'm Holly Firfer.



FIRFER: Children are also touched by cancer and they have quite a presence at this Relay For Life. The Kids For A Kure team is one of the top fund-raisers and it was founded by a girl when she was just 9- years-old. We talked to some of the team members which included



FIRFER: ...about your battle with cancer.

ALAINA SHAPIRO, CANCER SURVIVOR: About five years ago I was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer in my left leg and had to undergo chemotherapy when I lost all my hair and radiation and surgery and physical therapy.

FIRFER: And you're okay now?

SHAPIRO: Yes, I've been in remission. Five year cancer survivor.

FIRFER: Why is it important for you to be here in the middle of the night?

SHAPIRO: It's something I'm really dedicated to ever since I survived cancer. It's really become a passion of my to help volunteer for the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life. I basically have had a lot of friends that have passed away and had cancer. And anything to get rid of the word cancer and find a cure sometime sooner than later is a reason for me to be here, 1:30 in the morning.

FIRFER: Now if you had to explain to people what you've had to go through, I mean, obviously, the toughest thing probably in your entire life.

SHAPIRO: Exactly. It's just something that no teenager, even a 13-year-old really expects to hear, especially since it wasn't really in our family. It's definitely rough to have to go through something like that at a young age. To overcome it has made me a stronger person. I've learned so much. It's a great experience. Now that I've survived it, it's easier to help people and I can dedicate myself to helping the Relay For Life.

FIRFER: Terrific. And I want to talk to you Lauren quickly because, you have been doing this for a long time.


FIRFER: How many years?

WILBOURN: Seven years.


WILBOURN: Cancer has affected everyone. I don't know a single person who doesn't -- hasn't been affected by cancer in some way. Everybody knows somebody that's been affected with cancer and it is just anything we can do to help out and pitch in and find a cure for cancer.

FIRFER: Reporter: It's 3:00, 4:00 the morning, I'm ready to give up, I want tot go home, or does something drive you to stay?

WILBOURN: Yes, there's a lot of times where people want to go home. We want to sleep, we want to take a shower. But, I mean, everybody here is so inspiring and it's eye opening to see all the survivors and everybody here. It's just amazing.


FIRFER: Good morning. It's 7:00 a.m. The sun is coming up. We have our morning coffee and we made it through the night. Stay with us and look at how all ends is straight ahead.


CHRISTY FIEG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Plus, your chance to get involved in a Relay For Life in your community.

First, some of this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."

Transfats aren't usually listed on nutrition labels, but check the list of ingredients. If you see the words partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, those are transfats. Like saturated fats, they raise your risk of heart disease. The Center For Science And The Public Interest is calling for the FDA to ban them. The FDA says they are reviewing the petition.

According to a new report, autism is not linked to the vaccines your child gets. The IOM says neither the mercury based vaccine thimerosal or measles, bumps Rubella vaccine are associated with autism.

Christy Fieg, CNN.



FIRFER: Well, they are packing up now because the relay for life is just about over. But the fight against cancer goes on. A look become now at a memorable night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty-two years. Forty-two years. Forty-two years.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to be really pretty (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CROWD: One, two, three strikes you're out at the old relay!



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