Survivor's Lap 2019

Cancer survivors, in purple shirts, and their families take part in the Survivor’s Lap at the 2019 Watauga County Relay for Life.

After Watauga went through 2020 without a Relay for Life event for the first time in 25 years, the future of the event continues to be undecided, with the American Cancer Society still trying to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many Relay for Life events throughout the country had to be canceled during the pandemic, the Watauga edition was canceled in 2020 due to repeated years of low turn-out, Watauga Democrat previously reported. According to Megan Nelson, the ACS Executive Director for Western North Carolina/South Carolina, the Watauga Relay for Life and all other events have an uncertain future.

“The (COVID-19 pandemic) was devastating for the American Cancer Society,” Nelson said. “It really hurt our event fundraising, which is our main source.”

Nelson noted that due to the variety of restrictions imposed during the pandemic, events were shuttered as the ACS was faced with budget cuts and layoffs.

“It continues to be a challenging event time for us,” Nelson said. “Even now, spring has been a cautious event time for us.”

A casualty of the hit ACS has taken was the staff partner for the Watauga Relay for Life, as the position was eliminated.

“Should the event come back, we would take a look at our resources and how best to support the volunteers and their efforts,” Nelson said.

She said they are optimistic to have events in the fall, but nothing was certain at the time.

Nelson said that while Relay for Life is a fundraiser for the ACS, its main point is to celebrate cancer survivors, many of whom are considered to be at a higher-risk of danger when it comes to COVID-19. However, she added that the ACS’s efforts are not limited to Relay for Life.

“Our mission continues, whether there’s a Relay for Life or not,” Nelson said. “Cancer didn’t stop in the pandemic.”

According to the ACS, there has been an estimated 63,930 new cases of cancer in North Carolina in 2021 to date, and an estimated 20,150 deaths.

The most common new cancer cases in 2021 have been estimated to be female breast cancer, according to the ACS, while lung and bronchus cancer has caused the most deaths.

Pointing to Relay for Life’s purpose of celebrating survivors, Nelson said the celebration is not limited to a yearly event.

“We continue to celebrate survivors every day, and celebrate that there’s more of them every day,” Nelson said.

While the ACS has been recovering from the toll the pandemic took on the foundation, they have been working to get back to much of what they were doing before the pandemic. Nelson said there was a “huge decline” in cancer screenings during the pandemic as people avoided visits to medical centers, and that the ACS has been encouraging people to get checked since.

For more information about the ACS in North Carolina, go to www.cancer.org/about-us/local/north-carolina.html.

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