SIKESTON -- Terry McKinnie is one of hundreds of cancer survivors taking part in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life this weekend. For McKinnie, the event represents more than raising money for those struck with cancer--it's also about raising hope of survival for those battling the illness.
"I had Hodgkin's disease 11 years ago," McKinnie said. "In the '60s if you were diagnosed with it, it was like, 'That's it, you're gone,' because it wasn't curable. Now it's the cancer you would want to get because it's curable."
McKinnie said he and his wife, Karen, have walked in the relay since it began five years ago in Sikeston and have put together a relay team for the past two years.
"More people are diagnosed with cancer each year," McKinnie said. "When most people find out they have cancer, they think, 'I'm gonna die.' But with the research that has taken place in the '70s and '80s, things have changed."
According to a statement from the American Cancer Society released Wednesday, new data show that death rates for all cancers continued to decline in the United States from 1993 to 1999. However, the number of cancer cases can be expected to double by the year 2050 due to the growth and aging of the population in coming decades.
"The continuing decline in the rate of cancer deaths once again affirms the progress we've made against cancer, but the report also highlights the need for an acceleration of research as the population of the United States ages," National Cancer Institute Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach said in the same statement released by the American Cancer Society.
It looks as though area residents also see the need for cancer research because relay participation rates have increased since its origin in 1997. Relay chairperson and cancer survivor Janet Hudspeth said that in 1998, seven teams and 200 participants signed up for the event. This year, there are 32 teams and 1,500 participants who will walk in the relay.
Last year's relay raised $82,000 for the American Cancer Society. Hudspeth said the goal this year is to reach $100,000.
Relay walkers have preregistered and will take turns walking the Sikeston High School track between 6 p.m. today and 10 a.m. Saturday. The only break is at the 10 p.m. luminary ceremony; otherwise the track is full for 16 hours.
Even if someone doesn't have cancer, it's likely that they know someone who does, McKinnie said. Although it's too late to get involved for this year's relay, he recommends getting involved in the annual event next year because no one knows what the future holds.
"Last year, my uncle walked in the relay just to participate," McKinnie said. "Last summer, a couple months after the relay, he found out he had prostate cancer, and this year, he's walking the first lap with the cancer survivors."
McKinnie said he can't stress enough the importance of donating time and money to aid in research and funding for cancer.
"If we didn't have this relay or any fund raisers, a lot of people today wouldn't be alive," McKinnie said. "The research does help others survive."