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a beacon of hope
Story by Audrey Hanes, Photo by Amy Long

The Relay for Life is and always has been a signature event to raise money for the American Cancer Society, but this year, the Relay for Life of Craighead County will take cancer prevention one step further with the introduction of Cancer Prevention Study– (CPS-3). The study, a groundbreaking new effort to help researchers better understand how lifestyle, genetics and the environment affect cancer, hopes to recruit up to 300 volunteers at Jonesboro’s 18th annual relay.

“By having the CPS-3 enrollment site at the Relay for Life of Craighead County, we are showing our community that the money they are raising is truly going towards research and finding cures,” said Erica Morris, a health initiatives representative who first became involved with the American Cancer Society (ACS) 10 years ago. “During a cancer diagnosis, the word hope is used frequently. The CPS-3 tent is a beacon of hope at our event, hope that one day in the near future, no one has to hear the words, ‘You have cancer.’ It is showing that we can all be a part of that hope and that we can say, ‘Because I was a part of this research, we have given someone else more hope.’”

Craighead is one of only four counties in Arkansas that was selected this year to take part in the study, and organizers want to emphasize how easy it is to make a difference. Anyone between the ages of 30 and 65 years old who has never been diagnosed with cancer and who is willing to make a long-term commitment to the study is encouraged to volunteer for CPS-3. The unique opportunity to be involved with active cancer research merely involves taking a survey, providing a waist measurement and giving a small blood sample at the relay. Participants will then receive periodic surveys at home for the next 20 to 30 years regarding their medical history, lifestyle and behaviors.

CPS-3 is the third study conducted by the ACS. The first study found the link between smoking and lung cancer, and the second study found a link between obesity and certain types of cancer, so researchers are hopeful that CPS-3 will be able to determine links between lifestyles, environments and genetics and how those factors affect cancer and how the disease can be better prevented.

The four areas in Arkansas that are participating in the study are highly farmed areas, so scientists hope the study will better enable them to understand the link between farm chemicals and cancer, as well.

“We are always looking for a cure; no matter what type of disease, someone is trying to find a cure,” said Morris, who enrolled in the study in 2010. “I am not a scientist, and I know that I will never come up with a drug or treatment that will prevent or manage someone’s cancer, but I know that by participating in CPS-3, I am doing my part to help those scientists make advancements towards possible cures and learning ways that might prevent cancer. ... By participating in CPS-3, we have the chance to help change the world. This is our opportunity to work with those scientists; here is our opportunity to truly help find cures.”

Jackie Wallis, who began volunteering with ACS in 1994, joined the ACS staff three years ago as a community representative. He now works with seven different Relay for Life events across eight different counties.

“Relay for Life gives the community the opportunity to fight back against cancer,” said Wallis. “Relay not only raises money, but it also raises awareness. It shows the community that the fight against cancer involves everyone. Everyone has been affected by cancer in one way or another. ... By coming together as a community, we are also showing our cancer survivors that we are there for them.”

Yvonne Sutton is one such survivor. Sutton, a community educator with St. Bernards Behavioral Health, says that it is by the grace of God that she beat cervical cancer and is still cancer free 16 years later. For the past 14 years, Sutton has used her personal experience as a volunteer for the ACS; in addition to serving as the CPS-3 chair for Northeast Arkansas this year, she has been a team captain and has volunteered in several different positions on the steering committee, including chairing the event three times. 

“Without the studies being done and the medication, procedures and vaccines that they have discovered throughout the years, a lot of people that are cancer survivors today wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the American Cancer Society,” she said. 

Wallis says the ACS has a goal of raising $108,000 at this year’s relay, and he believes they can reach that goal with the continued support of Craighead County.

“It doesn’t take people doing a lot, it just takes a lot of people doing a little,” he said.

Registration for CPS-3 will take place in conjunction with Relay for Life of Craighead County on June 1 at the ASU walking track. The race will begin at 6 p.m., and the study will accept volunteers from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. For more information, visit relayforlife.org or email Jackie.Wallis@cancer.org.