For a few years now, the Tahlequah Daily Press has followed the heartbreaking stories of the area's many cancer victims, and the heartwarming ones of survivors. And while no definitive proof exists that this area is part of a "cancer cluster," there seem to be more people stricken with that deadly disease here than in other parts of the region.
Assistant Editor Sheri Gourd has been tasked with the difficult job of serving what should not have become a "beat" for a community newspaper, but the high incidence of cancer means the topic cannot be lumped under the more general "health" category. She has written about both adults and children afflicted with the disease, and has kept up with several of the affected families.
Last weekend, there was spillover. Keri Thornton has the fire departments as part of her courts, crime and trauma (fires, car crashes, tornados, etc.) beat, so she covered a "fire engine pull." Her story, in the Wednesday edition, described how teams literally dragged a 40,000-pound truck 12 feet. And they did it to help raise money for the fight against cancer.
The fire truck pull kicked off the local Relay For Life series, which helps collect money for the American Cancer Society. Jerrie Brown, sponsorship lead for Relay for Life, and event lead Amy Lair, talked to Keri about their idea and how they hope it will become an annual event. They mentioned a couple of times that the 2019-2020 campaign marks a "rebuilding year" for the local Relay For Life - and everyone who has been involved at least peripherally with Relay or other local cancer projects will agree the reorganization is sorely needed.
Relay For Life is like anything else in this and other communities. Some years, the folks steering the ship are adept helmsmen and can guide the project successfully through the choppy waters of fundraising. Others, though, have run the ship aground, and coffers weren't filled nearly to the level they should have been. In a few cases, managers of the flawed campaigns tried to blame the media or other in-the-trenches workers, when in fact, the media can't publicize an event it doesn't know about, and volunteers can't staff it, either.
One of a good local promoter's first acts is to contact the newspaper, since he or she knows we will staff as many events as we can, and keep up with other news along the way. Several years ago, when a particularly vigorous effort was undertaken, TDP produced about 20 stories - and that doesn't include the many press releases, briefs and photos submitted by organizers. These days, it's also incumbent upon anyone running a public relations campaign to be active on social media. TDP offers a helping hand, too; with our high number of Facebook "likes" and followers - we broke 27,000 this week! - we're well-positioned to push worthy causes. And there are few causes as important as the battle to wipe out cancer.
A handful of activists have already called to say how much they appreciate the efforts of Brown and Lair with Relay For Life, and so does TDP. We expect them to be out there on the front lines, working with other volunteers to bring this critical issue to the forefront of the community.