Going in Circles, or: Cancer Has No Hands


            In a world where it seems like everyone’s just going in circles, it’s nice to know some people are doing it for a reason.

            In 1985, one man decided he’d circle a track for 24 hours. I know, crazy – right? He must be a mental case, or the worst kind of out of touch person: a politician. But no, it turns out he did it in an attempt to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

            I probed further and discovered colorectal surgeon Dr. Gordy Klatt … okay, poor choice of words with the probe thing. I once asked my urologist what his favorite prostate inspection joke was, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

            In his business Klatt saw plenty of cancer, so he wanted to support his patients and help the local ACS office. Turns out Klatt was also a marathon runner, so in May, 1985, he ran for more than 83 miles over the course of a full day. Friends donated $25 each to go along with him for 30 minutes of his marathon.

            Was it successful? He raised $27,000 for the fight against cancer.

            (By the way, this isn’t an effort to raise money “for cancer”. You don’t want cancer to have money. Besides, cancer has no hands. No, you raise money to fight cancer, and if cancer doesn’t like that – too bad.)

            Klatt had a lot of time to think during those 24 hours. This was pre-iPod, after all. It’s true, there really was a time before iPods. He came up with the idea of a relay event, and a year later 19 teams took place in the very first Relay for Life.

            Now teams participate in 21 countries. Four million Americans in 5,000 communities took part last year  – less than those who cook out on Memorial Day weekend, but slightly more than the number who’ve sent death threats to Justin Bieber. Maybe The Beeb would be less hated if people knew about the nine charities he supports, but that’s another story.

There’s even a virtual fundraising event, Relay For Life of Second Life, which has raised over a million dollars. I don’t even have time to deal with first life.

This makes The ACS Relay For Life the world’s largest grassroots fundraising movement, unless you count the people who call in to vote on American Idol. In addition to being a good cause, it gives participants a chance to live their childhood dream of staying up all night since, after all, cancer never sleeps. (It has no hands, and thus can’t pull on its pajamas.)

Participants can stay up all night, sleep in the tents while other team members are on the track, or even go home to nap – it’s not the technicalities that matter so much as the fund raising. On the other hand, there’s a lot of fun stuff going on at the Relays, and if you sleep you miss it.

It might seem strange to have fun while fighting something so evil, but one Relay theme is “Celebrate. Remember. Fight back.” As a humor columnist and a well-known walking disaster whose own theme is “What could possibly go wrong?” I know better than anyone that such things are better faced with love and laughter. Besides, it’s working: Thanks to new research and treatment, cancer survivors celebrate more birthdays every year.

How did I get involved in the Relay? Good question; thanks for asking, Mom. About four years ago I was approached by a coworker who asked, “You write part time, don’t you?”

“No,” I said. That’s my default self-preservation response to the question, but he knew about my column, fiction writing, and vicious letters to the editor, and asked me to do public information work for the Noble County Relay For Life.

“But I don’t wanna,” I didn’t say that out loud, because it’s everyone’s responsibility to give something back to the community. And to use their turn signals

After all, half of all men and one third of women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and all of us will be affected in one way or another. So I signed up, because I have a certain small amount of talent in writing and because, like voting or trimming your nose hairs, it’s the right thing to do.

A couple of years after that I got my own biopsy, and began an ongoing process of having my prostate watched by my urologist, who I’ve nicknamed Doctor Digit. It was just this year when my stepfather had his operation for bladder cancer.

So here I am again, pushing the Noble County Relay For Life that’s coming up May 19th this year, at the West Noble High School south of Ligonier. We’re all connected, you see.

Better to be connected in fighting cancer, rather than having it drag us all down. Not that it could, ‘cause we’re stronger than that … and it doesn’t have any hands.

For more information about the Noble County Relay For Life, go to www.relayforlife.org/noblecountyin.

You can also contact Noble County Chairperson Carla Fiandt at the Community State Bank in Albion, by e-mail at carlaf@csbemail.com, or by phone at 260-636-3744. Or, e-mail Team Recruitment Chair Stacey Lang at esclang@hotmail.com, or American Cancer Society representative Melissa Stephens at melissa.stephens@cancer.org, or 260-471-3911.


  1. Well done, sir. (I'm typing this with my forehead)

  2. That's remarkably good keyboarding, especially if you aren't using your nose ....

  3. Sounds like a good cause. Keep up the great work Mark!

  4. Thanks for spreading the word, Mark ... and for trimming your nose hairs.

    1. Nobody wants to see nose hairs. I doubt there's even a fetish website for that.

  5. Sounds like a great cause.

    Here on the weekend, an MP and a Senator raised money for cancer research by going mano a mano in a boxing match.

    1. If two fighting politicians knocked each senseless, would anyone notice?

  6. Mark, that is a noble cause and good luck! Indeed because of research there are more and more people able to survive.

    1. Thanks, Lena! I'll keep plugging until the day of the Relay.

  7. I agree. Amazing things can be done when people work together. :)

  8. Good post Mark. Good luck with the project.


    1. Thanks -- lots of great people working on this.