Jennifer Royall of Millers Creek knows firsthand about the importance of cancer research.

The type of cancer she was diagnosed with was tied to an inherited mutant gene, which wasn’t even identified until four years earlier as a result of research.

“The fact that it had been recognized and studied resulted in knowledge of how to treat it better,” said Royall, a cancer survivor.

Due to continuing advances in treatment of the different types of cancer, such stories are increasingly common.

One of the biggest advances in cancer treatment is in the area of “targeted therapy,” which targets proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide and spread. Similarly, research determined that there are many types of breast cancer with different causes and treatments.

As a result of her father losing his life to cancer, Royall was already an American Cancer Society/Relay for Life volunteer when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Royall is a Relay for Life of Wilkes County Committee member, which is preparing for the annual Relay for Life. This effort culminates with an event, which in recent years has been held at the North Wilkesboro Rotary Club Park at West Park, North Wilkesboro.

Royall said interested people are encouraged to attend the Relay for Life of Wilkes Committee’s next meeting, which is at 6 p.m. May 25 at Wilkesboro United Methodist Church.

She said organization of new teams and participation in existing teams also are encouraged. More details on this are at Relay for Life of Wilkes County also has a Facebook page.

For over 20 years, Wilkes Countians have worked together through Relay for Life to raise money in various ways for cancer research through the American Cancer Society.

This includes the sale and lighting of luminaries (glow sticks in paper bags) positioned around a walking track during the event, which in the early years was on the lower campus of Wilkes Community College.

As much as $40,000 has been raised for the American Cancer Society in a single event with luminary sales. In some years, well over $150,000 has been raised all totaled.

People purchase the luminaries in memory of friends and relatives who lost battles with cancer and in honor of cancer survivors. Participants then walk around the track with luminaries.

Teams have booths selling food, crafts and other items to raise money for the American Cancer Society. There is a motivational speaker, often a celebrity and sometimes live music. It’s also a time for people to talk about their experiences with cancer.

Like many charitable and other public events, Relay for Life wasn’t held locally in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s normally held in June each year, but this year is scheduled Oct. 8 due to the pandemic. Plans for the annual Wilkes Relay for Life Survivor’s Dinner are uncertain at this point due to the pandemic.

Plans are still being developed for the event, but organizers are encouraging formation of Relay for Life teams and are encouraging new and existing teams to conduct fundraising activities, while being mindful of COVID-19 precautions.

Arnold Lakey of Wilkesboro, a longtime Relay for Life leader in Wilkes, said the effort was started by Diane Combs as a result of her experiences with people who had cancer.

Lakey became involved because of his wife, cancer survivor Becky Lakey. She also has been an active Rely for Life volunteer through the years.

Lakey and Royall both emphasized having regular medical examinations and getting appointments if something seems wrong because of the importance of early detection of cancer.

The Wilkes County Relay for Life website currently lists 13 Relay for Life teams. Those teams and team leaders are:

• Necessary Battle/Steel Magnolias, Annette Battle;

• Moore’s Angels, Nancy Blackburn;

• Strides of Hope, Linda Key;

• First Light Church, Sherry Dancy;

• Sharing the Flame, Karla Gibson;

• Cruising for a Cure (Wilkes Cruisers), Jean Brown;

• Wake Forest Baptist Health Care at Home, Kimberly Waddell;

• Keeping the Promise, Polly Pruitt;

• Millers Creek United Methodist Church Circle of Friends, Patty Pierce;

• Traphill Elementary, Christina Hurst;

• Survivors for a Cure, ArLene Gregory;

• Royal Knights, Betty Ellis;

• SECU Fat Cats.

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