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Volunteers, Leaders Fight to Keep Cancer Fundraiser Thriving

November 15, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Over the weekend, volunteer leaders, survivors and American Cancer Society workers from the upper Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) joined together to keep one of the nation's largest fundraisers thriving in a tough economy. Comments from Terry Music, chief mission delivery officer, American Cancer Society (ACS); and Keith Warner, cancer survivor, volunteer, and Relay for Life team leader for ACS, Minnesota.

A sea of purple flooded Bloomington this weekend. More than 900 volunteers, cancer survivors and American Cancer Society (ACS) workers from Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin met to celebrate "Relay for Life" successes and keep the momentum going.

As the nonprofit world struggles to raise funds in the tough economy, chief mission delivery officer Terry Music with the American Cancer Society says they understand that people haven't been able to give as much. So, she says, their aim has been to get more "feet on the street," bringing together more people affected by the disease.

"The success of Relay is that it's so community based. Everyone is touched by cancer; everyone has a story to tell. Relay just provides that place, that format, that opportunity for them to say, 'I care about this disease and I really want to do something to help fight back.'"

Keith Warner is one of Minnesota's most energized volunteer leaders. He has survived three bouts with cancer and organized White Bear Lake's first Relay for Life 16 years ago. But coming off the track that first year, he wasn't sure he ever wanted to do it again.

"I said, 'There's a better way to raise $7,000.' And then, ironically, eight weeks later, our then- 31-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. My wife and I looked at each other and said, 'We have to continue this.'"

Warner's granddaughter Colleen was only six months old when his daughter Lori was diagnosed, and not quite four when her mother passed away. Warner says he will never forget the last conversation he had with his daughter.

"She asked me, 'Dad, do you think there's ever a chance that Colleen could ever grow up and not have to go through what you and mom are going through?' And I promised Lori that I would spend the rest of my life helping people on their cancer journey, and help raise money to find answers to this disease."

Since 1995, Warner's White Bear Lake team has raised an incredible $3.3 million. But for him, the event is so much more than a fundraiser.

"It's a refuge, it's a safe harbor for anybody on a cancer journey, whether you're a caregiver, whether you're a survivor, if you've lost someone to cancer, or whatever your role is as a volunteer, you can feel very comfortable talking about cancer and not be intimidated by it. And people really come together. You can't walk 20 yards on our track without making a new friend."

Relay for Life has raised more than $1 billion in the last three years for cancer research, making it one of the largest contributors to the cause. In Minnesota this year, 34,000 participants raised more than $9 million. Relay proceeds allow the American Cancer Society to serve more than 8,000 cancer patients around the state.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN