BESSEMER - Local residents kicked off the 2014 Relay for Life Thursday night.
For more than 20 years, people have participated in Relay for Life in Gogebic County, walking to help raise money for cancer research, honor those who lost their battles with cancer and support those facing the disease.
This year's theme is "Fishing for a Cure." According to event organizer Carole Lillar, having so many people participate in the event each year is "great.
"I have a lot of cancer in my family and over the past 20 years, the strides in research because of Relay for Life fundraising money is tremendous," Lillar said. "You can see how things have changed for the better. To have so much support is just wonderful."
Relay for Life is a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and ACS representative Stephanie Swartzendruber said this year there is an additional focus for cancer.
"There is also a focus on nutrition and physical activity," Swartzendruber said. "Thirty percent of the causes of cancer are things we can change ourselves, like smoking, poor nutrition or lack of physical activities. We want people to be aware so they have another way to help the fight here at home."
Recently, the ACS achieved a goal of having 300,000 people nationwide sign up to participate in a study looking into different environmental factors and genetics that could be in connection with cancer.
Participants in the study are from ages 30-65 and are without cancer or have never had cancer. Every two years, participants will receive a survey, asking them about their overall health, family health, living and work environments, and other factors.
"This is the first study of its kind, and we met our goal," Swartzendruber said. "There is no other organization trying to see if there is any connection between these factors to cancer, and this is something the American Cancer Society can do."
After meeting that goal, ACS has another goal. By 2018, it wants 80 percent of all qualified individuals to be screened for colon and rectal cancers.
"Screenings can save lives if they are caught early," Swartzendruber said. "In the past, you couldn't talk about breast cancer. It was something you whispered or didn't bring up. With this goal, we want to make colon and rectal cancer something to talk about. Ask your family or friends if they have been been screened, because it can save lives."
The 2014 Gogebic County Relay for Life is scheduled for Aug. 8-9 at Massie Field in Bessemer. According to Lillar, there is an option to have the event indoors if the weather doesn't cooperate. New teams are welcome to sign up for this year's event.
"So many people think they can't participate because they don't know enough people to have a team," Swartzendruber said. "A team can be two people. This event is a way to do something. It's equal parts raising funds for ACS, it's an opportunity for the community to come together to fight back instead of just being sad and upset and it's honoring those who lost their battles."
To learn more about Relay for Life, or to participate in this year's event in Bessemer, contact Lillar at 906-229-5263, or visit relayforlife.org/GogebicCountyMI.