Ross Maak: Relay for Life a good cause |

Ross Maak: Relay for Life a good cause

After losing three grandparents and my wonderful mother to cancer (and I’m only 36), I decided this year was a good time to jump on the bandwagon and participate in the 2007 American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Surprisingly enough, however, it wasn’t the trauma of losing family members that will finally get me out there.

Don’t get me wrong. I miss my mom more than you can imagine. Her battle with cancer had a profound effect on my life. Losing her when she was only 54 wasn’t fair and I still grapple with that to this day, seven years later.

But what finally got me out of my chair and into this year’s Relay for Life came from a few simple comments I’ve heard recently. Basically, the comments indicated that donating to or participating in the Relay for Life is a bad idea because the money raised doesn’t stay here in Nevada County.


Does that mean we shouldn’t donate to anything outside of Nevada County?

Does that mean no county should donate to anything outside of their county?

Does that mean that if we truly want to find a cure to this terrible, evil, slow-moving, miserable, eating-life-away-inch-by-inch disease, each county should work on the same research separately as opposed to pooling our resources, hiring the best scientists available and finding a cure? What a waste.

Don’t misunderstand me. Every single person out there has the right to donate money wherever they’d like – or not at all. I’m not exactly flush with extra cash, so I get pretty picky when it comes to giving money away.

What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t want to give to the American Cancer Society or the Relay for Life, then by all means, don’t. There are literally thousands of incredible organizations out there worthy of our support.

I live just down the street from the Cancer Aid-Thrift Shop. When I first heard about this place and what it does for people, I was in awe. As opposed to a big, nationwide organization trying to cure cancer, here’s this little shop that helps the families of cancer victims right here in town.

If that’s not a worthy cause, then I’m clueless when it comes to what one is.

But to single out and talk trash about the Relay for Life because the money is used for nationwide, statewide and local projects as opposed to just local projects is ludicrous.

Besides cancer research, the local chapter of the ACS offers a number of free services to people right here in Nevada County. The money raised at the Relay for Life helps train volunteers for those free local services and for such programs as mileage reimbursement for those who volunteer to drive patients to appointments.

There are also peer-to-peer programs where people who have been through the trials of cancer are able to counsel those who are just starting the journey.

Last year alone, the ACS helped 123 cancer patients in Nevada County. Free. So besides research at the national level, advocacy at the national and state level and education at every level, the ACS is also helping with hands-on programs at the local level.

When it came to my grandparents and mother, we were fortunate to be well-covered by insurance and surrounded by caring friends and family. The need for our family to rely on an organization like the American Cancer Society just wasn’t there.

But it was sure nice to know they existed in case we needed them. The ACS not only provides a Web site with information for any cancer victim, but also a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year 800-number with real, live people on the other end.

The purpose of these resources is to be there in case anyone has questions about what lies ahead.

Imagine being single, living a long way from family and finding out you have cancer. That can be a devastating blow to anyone, whether they live in Nevada County, California, or Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. Something as simple as a link on a Web site or a caring, informative voice on the other end of the phone can literally save a life.

A quick conversation with Matthew Foor, who handles the Nevada County Relay for Life as well as five other Relays in the area for the ACS, really opened my eyes.

According to Foor, the American Cancer Society funds more cancer research than any other nonprofit organization. In fact, the only other organization that offers more financial support is the federal government.

One example is the pap-smear test. (Trust me when I say that’s a term I never, ever, thought would appear in one of my sports stories.)

Anyway, according to Foor, the American Cancer Society was instrumental in developing the pap smear, which has potentially saved thousands of lives. The ACS estimates the test has reduced deaths from cervical cancer by 70 percent.

And that’s just one example.

Besides all this, the concept that all donations to any group should be kept local just seems silly to me. How is any progress supposed to be made if every organization has its money compartmentalized by geographic location?

When it comes to research and technology, it’s always a better plan to pool the money and hire the best rather than separate the money and have 1,000 different poorly-funded groups researching the same thing.

As a co-worker said to me recently, “I’m pretty sure that if they find the cure, they’ll share it with us.”

Good point.

So, if you choose not to support your local Relay for Life, that’s absolutely your choice, but please come up with a better excuse than “the money doesn’t stay local.”

And don’t try the old argument about the ACS being a big, corporate beast that only sends pennies on the dollar to actual projects. Foor told me that a whopping 4 percent of the Relay money is set aside for administrative costs.

I find that number acceptable.

Besides, the ACS has earned the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance Seal. The alliance is a national charity watchdog affiliated with the Better Business Bureau system.

So you should come up with a much better excuse than that, something like “I’m broke after filling up my car with gas this morning.”

That one is at least believable.

Better yet, though, would be to go ahead and donate. It really is a worthy cause.

Personally, it’s easy for me to part with the money – because parting with mom was so hard.


To contact Sports Writer Ross Maak, e-mail or call 477-4244.

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