Join a team, for life

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The words, “I’m sorry. It’s cancer,” can strike fear in the hearts of the most courageous individuals. Despite medical advances that have extended the lifespan of those diagnosed with the disease, cancer still ranks as the second leading cause of death in America, falling behind only heart disease in the toll it takes on human lives, according to the American Cancer Society.

The statistics are sobering. Across the United States in 2008, cancer caused an estimated 565,650 deaths. That works out to more than 1,500 people each day. The U.S. cancer death rate for the year was 238.7 per 10,000 people. Virginia’s rate was even higher, at 249.1 per 10,000. Last year, more than 1.4 million people heard their doctors tell them for the first time that they have the disease.

We like to think that we have overcome most of the important medical problems that face us in modern society. Heart disease, for instance, the No. 1 killer of Americans, often can be avoided through exercise, good nutrition and medication. But cancer continues to baffle medical professionals. There is no outright cure for the disease, and treatment can be radically invasive and cause incredibly harsh physical consequences that are quite separate from the ravages of the disease itself.

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One major advancement in cancer care during recent decades has been the discovery of the personal choices one can make to reduce one’s chances of ever hearing the dreaded diagnosis. Don’t smoke, watch your diet, stay fit and avoid sunburns and you are more likely to avoid some of the most common — and deadly — forms of cancer. Early detection techniques have increased the survival rate for other types.

The American Cancer Society continues its 130-year history of public education and support of cancer research. You can help. During the next couple of months, ACS chapters across the country will host their annual Relay for Life events. Suffolk’s Rockin’ Relay for Life is set for May 15-16 at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. Teams will raise money to support cancer research, and cancer victims and survivors will be honored during the 24-hour relay.

Find a few people willing to join you, and set up a team. Or attend an organizational meeting and join someone else’s team. The next meeting is planned for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at NSA. It’s a worthy effort that could use all the participation possible. Call 493-7999 for more information, or visit the Web site at