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Cancer Society ‘Relay’ returns to Sitka

Dr. Gordy Klatt ran the first Relay — 24-hours non-stop — by himself in 1985.

The Relay for Life is coming back to Sitka.

For twenty-eight years, the Relay has been one of the primary fund raising activities of the American Cancer Society. This year, over 5,000 communities across the country will participate in the all-night event.

Chase Carter is the community relationship manager for the American Cancer Society in Anchorage. He says the Relay for Life began informally in 1985, when Dr. Gordy Klatt, an oncologist in Tacoma, Washington, decided to make a personal statement to raise awareness about cancer prevention and treatment.

“So he went out one night, himself — he was a marathon runner — and ran for 24 hours. And it was such a crazy, novel idea that the next year when he was doing it again people joined him and paid to relay along with him, because no one really wanted to do the whole 24 hours. But they were willing to do an hour. So it’s just sort of evolved over the past twenty-eight years.”

Carter says the Relay never developed as a race. He calls it a family-friendly night out. Marathoners can carry Dr. Klatt’s tradition forward if they like, but the Relay now is all-inclusive.

“Everyone is welcome. We really encourage survivors to come, and a lot of times cancer survivors have mobility problems. So it’s a walk, and you get a team together of five to fifteen coworkers, family, and friends. You get this little campsite, and there’s one member from your team walking throughout the overnight event.”

A big part of the Relay is simply raising the profile of the American Cancer Society. Carters says the American Cancer Society is sometimes discouraged when cancer patients and their families fail to use free services and support available to them around the state. Most patients simply don’t know that they can obtain rides from the Anchorage airport, for example, if they’re arriving for treatment, or get help with hotel bills.

“Relay really helps get the word out in a community. We know we’re underserving the residents of Sitka, and we’re hoping that when we bring Relay to Sitka, we can work in conjunction with the local cancer groups to get the word out about what’s available to Sitkans.”

Planning for the American Cancer Society’s 2013 Relay for Life in Sitka gets underway tonight with a kickoff event at the Sitka Pioneer Home. Anyone interested in helping with the Relay — or any businesses interested in sponsoring the event or teams — are welcome to attend.

The location and time of the Sitka Relay have not been firmed up yet. Carter says the organization is thinking about using Moller Field, next to Sitka Community Hospital, as a starting location. He says summertime usually works best for the event. Organizers are looking at dates sometime in June or July.

KCAW’s Ed Ronco contributed to this report.

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