DeDe Cargill does all she can to support those fighting cancer.
The vivacious grandma leads free monthly walks as the organizer of Every Step Counts, the “fitness fellowship” she founded in 2006 for survivors and those still undergoing treatment. She raises funds for Relay for Life and can often be found shepherding other volunteers at American Cancer Society events, where calls herself the “Vice President of Fun.”
But she’d really prefer that cancer not exist at all.
“I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be as mystified by cancer as my children are by polio,” says Cargill, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 and has been cancer–free for eight years. “I want it to be something that they’ve never heard of.”
This month Cargill is working towards that vision with a new cancer–fighting role: Recruiting Savannah citizens for ACS’ Cancer Prevention Study–3 (CPS–3), part of a nationwide effort to track the genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that cause cancer. The ACS’ Dept. of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research hopes to enlist 300,000 men and women throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and Guam between the ages of 30 and 65 who have never been diagnosed with cancer. After a short initial appointment, participants will fill out a survey every two to three years for the next 20–30 years.
As a colon cancer survivor, Cargill isn’t eligible to participate (the chemotherapy and radiation treatments she received can skew the study.) But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a Community Champion, one of 75 local leaders aiming to sign up at least 400 participants from the Savannah area. The recruiting effort kicked off last Wednesday with a breakfast at the Civic Center and will last through February. Volunteers will schedule appointments online, and the first data collection sessions will be administered Feb. 26–March 1.
“What we’re trying to do is look at the influences that cause cancer,” explains Amy Riesinger, ACS’ Regional Mission Director. “We won’t see the results for 20 or 30 years, but it’s going to help us understand how to prevent cancer and find a cure.”
ACS has been conducting such long–term “prospective” studies since the 1950s, starting with the Hammond–Horn Study that provided the first irrefutable evidence that lung cancer is caused by cigarette smoking. Other studies have provided vital information that linked certain types of cancer with secondhand smoke and proves the efficacy of preventative diet and exercise choices. CPS–3 will give researchers fresh material to examine emerging cancer risks.
“We know what we know today because of past studies, and this one will give us data on how lifestyle and behavior affect the risks,” says Coastal Health District medical director Dr. Diane Weems. “The more we know, the more we understand.”
Dr. Weems adds that the key to the project’s success is not only enrolling 400 people but hinges upon those people’s “interest, willingness and commitment to see the study through.”
“But that doesn’t mean that people have to commit to staying at the same address for 30 years,” she grins. “They just have to stay in the U.S., Puerto Rico or Guam.”
Cargill and the rest of the Community Champions will be recruiting CPS–3 volunteers to sign up on the ACS website over the next six weeks and fill out a baseline survey. If eligible, they’ll be prompted to make an appointment for one of several community locations for the week starting Feb. 26. In addition to a more extensive survey, the enrollment sessions will include a waist measurement and a blood test.
“Sometimes the men don’t like their blood drawn, but it’s a very small blood test,” assures ACS project manager Kanika Whipple. “The women don’t like the waist measurement, but it’s in centimeters so there’s no judgment.”
While three decades sounds like a vow as intense as a marriage or a mortgage, Whipple promises that after the initial intake, the short surveys take almost no time at all.
“Over 20 years, we’re asking for less than a day,” she calculates. “That’s not a lot considering the impact you’re going to have.”
To volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s CPS–3 study, go to cps3savannah.com.