EUGENE, Ore. — The sixth largest Relay for Life event in the world takes place in Eugene on Friday. Hundreds of participants will circle around the track at Willamette High School to raise money for cancer research.
Rich Truett, President and Chief Operating Officer of Bi-Mart in Eugene, has been walking at the Eugene-Springfield Relay for Life since 2004. He is now the company’s Relay for Life team leader.
Like many who walk in the event, his story is personal. Rich’s wife, Sandy, was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
“I think the first thing everyone thinks about when they first hear the word ‘cancer,’ is death,” says Truett. “I think the next thing is, we’ll beat this.”
Sandy signed up for a clinical trial, a medicine called Herceptin. Research for the drug was funded by Relay for Life grants. Herceptin is a target therapy, which can block certain types of cancer. After three years in remission, Sandy’s cancer came back, and they treated it again.
“I believe it was because it was used later in her treatment,” said Truett. “It was when she was in Stage Four, and it held it at bay, so I have to believe its early use gave us years and not months.”
Sandy’s last Relay event was in 2010 when she walked with her daughter, also a cancer survivor. Sandy passed away one month before the 2011 Relay for Life.
Truett says he found a reason to continue walking. “All of the reasons I had done Relay were still there…The research that it supports were the real reasons for doing it.”
Soon, he began making key decisions. At one Relay event he met representatives from the American Cancer Society. Shortly after, he received a call, asking if he would be interested in serving on a community to determine which cancer projects every year would receive $110 million in grant funding from the American Cancer Society.
Truett was nominated to be a stakeholder and then approved to serve on the Drug Discovery Committee with 15 national researchers.
The stack of research papers he had to review was substantial. “Resarch grant proposals…there were probably 65 of them. You read them over and over again because you want to get it right,” said Truett.
Each year the committee looks at over 1,600 cancer research projects. They are all viable cancer treatments but only six to seven percent will ever receive funding. Truett’s job is to represent the public, the walkers who are raising the money.
“Is this research really cancer relevant? Is this something we should fund?” Truett asks himself. “What if that proposal is the link to figuring something out?”
It is these questions that keep him walking, while raising money to find a cure.
To sign up for Relay for Life, click here.