Bob Cummings wants to end the Relay for Life.
It’s not that the 30-year cancer survivor doesn’t enjoy the gatherings of survivors, supporters and fundraisers. It’s just that, if there’s a Relay, there’s still cancer to contend with.
“Cancer sucks,” Cummings told a crowd gathered at the start of the Big Horn County Relay for Life event Friday evening at Robertson Field in Lovell. “I’m on a mission. I want to end the R
elay. My mission is that, if the Relay is over, the cure has been found.
“You’re all standing here with me. You’re all an amazing inspiration to me.”
Cumming, of Billings, said his main message to those dealing with cancer is celebrate, remember and fight back. He said he was given a 50-50 percent chance of surviving six months when he was diagnosed with bone cancer 30 years ago at the age of 16. He overcame the odds, but many do not. Every day, he said, 1,500 people in the United States die of cancer.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said,
Cummings said he always remembers and is inspired by those who fight back against “this killer,” even those who “pay the ultimate price.” He told the story of Terry Fox, who had his leg amputated due to bone cancer but from April to September of 1980 ran a marathon a day – 26 miles most days – across Canada for 143 days, covering more than 3,300 miles until he said he just couldn’t run anymore.
Fox’s cancer had spread to his lungs, and he died in June of 1981, but his story was an inspiration to Cummings, who was undergoing radiation therapy for his own bone cancer at the time – every day for six weeks.
The Terry Fox journey was inspiring to Cummings, who told himself, “I gotta get through this.” Still, even after his own treatments were finished in 1983, Cummings said he stayed “in the closet” as a cancer survivor for many years until he attended his first Relay for Life, which brought him “indescribable joy.”
“I’m out of the closet now, and I’m glad to be here,” he said, noting that some who are just beginning their battle with cancer are reluctant to wear the Relay’s survivor’s shirt, having only had a few treatments. But he said it is important to share with each other at all levels of the journey.
“It’s an amazing, powerful statement,” he said. “We’re all in this together, and we draw strength from each other.”
He said he was told after his cancer that there would be a lot of things he couldn’t do anymore, but his message is, “No. I can do almost everything I could do. I just do it differently.” He said his wife, Robyn, runs almost 1,000 miles a year as a marathon runner, so he bicycles nearly the same distance.
Cummings urged his audience to not set limits on themselves, adding, “You will amaze yourself about what you can do.”
It was another festive evening for the Relay for Life as teams gathered to raise money for a good cause. The fifth annual event raised $22,728.49 for the American Cancer Society, Chairman Cheri Mickelson said, noting that some of the money came from the sale of luminarias, some from donations and the rest from team yard, raffle and food sales
Although community attendance was lower this year and there were fewer teams, Mickelson was buoyed by the fact that more survivors participated. Five teams participated, compared to nine last year and a high in recent years of 15.
“Although we had fewer teams participate than last year, I think they did an awesome job,” Mickelson said. “I think with the way the economy is, some people were afraid to commit to a team because they would have to ask for money. Asking for money is what the teams are there for, and they also walk through the night.”
Teams participating this year included:
• Big Top Clowns, captained by Mickelson, a friends and family team sponsored by American Colloid/CETCO. The team raised $5,477.44.
• Crazy Carnies, captained by Denise Harrison. Made up of family, friends and elementary school teachers, the team was sponsored by the Bank of Lovell. The team raised $3,957.62.
• Roz’s Troop, captained by Chauna Hillman Jolley, a friends and family team sponsored by many. The team raised $5,570.29.
• Sweet Tarts, captained by Cindy Phillips, sponsored by SE Inc. The friends and family team raised $3,444.
• Juggling Jewells, captained by Trevor Jewell. The self-sponsored friends and family team raised $166 Friday night.
Mickelson said organizers are already planning for next year’s relay and will be setting the date for 2012 as early as next month. Three new teams have already expressed an interest in participating next year, she said.
By David Peck