‘Don’t be intimidated by cancer’

McMahan encourages Relay crowd to be fearless

University of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball player Cait McMahan is point guard for a new team…the Blount County Relay for Life.

The senior, a Heritage High School standout, injured her knee last season and is now taken a position as assistant coach as part of her scholarship. McMahan was the speaker Tuesday night for the 2010 Relay for Life kick-off at the Airport Hilton

McMahan told the group that she was recently telling another coach about her opportunity with Relay when a reality hit her. When she feels sad about not being a Lady Vols player anymore, she now thinks about Relay for Life.

“That’s when it hit me,” McMahan said. “You’re not on a basketball team, but you’re on a new team, Relay for Life.” McMahan had her coaching hat on Tuesday night. She put those gathered for this year’s Relay kickoff through their paces without warning.

“Tonight, we’re having practice,” she said. “To begin, I want to tell you what I bring to the table. I was always point guard. I was always a born leader. In life, there are leaders and followers, and they are equally important - without followers there are no leaders.”

“I promise you won’t find anyone more passionate,” she said.

After meeting her teammates, McMahan said the second aspect of practice is to scout the opponent. “This year our big game is cancer. When you hear the word cancer, you think about death. We’ve got to overcome cancer. If we’re going to change lives, we can’t be intimidated.”

McMahan said that so far in 2009 - 40,470 people have died of cancer in the United States. It’s predicted that in 2010 in Blount County, 485 people will be diagnosed with cancer and 256 will die.

“We’ve got to be warriors,” she said. “We have to be fearless.”

McMahan said her mother, Teresa, who died of cancer in 2007, was a great example. “Doctors gave her six months, and she lived 11 months and saw us win a national championship,” she said.

Getting people into the game means raising awareness and raising money, McMahan said. “The main thing about raising awareness is you’ve got to be annoying,” she said. “Get on people’s nerves.”

Teamwork is the last component McMahan emphasized. She recalled how she played as backup her first season, and when not on the court, her role was to encourage and cheer on the other players.

“Everyone has a role. We have people fighting cancer and people supporting them. For people fighting, stay strong. We need you to be strong. If you choose be strong, you will live longer, so give 110 percent,” she said. “When you feel like giving up, do not give up.”

For supporters, McMahan advised them to show positive emotion. “Try not to show negative emotion. I don’t care how hard it is, you have to put a smile on your face. I know it’s hard,” she said. “Do not be scared. People are going to get diagnosed, but do not be scared. When someone dies, they didn’t lose, they just get tired of winning.”

Linda Whitehead, the 2010 Relay for Life chair, gave listeners background on what to expect for this year’s relay event. “Relay is about honoring survivors, remembering the ones we lost and raising money to fight back against cancer,” she said. “Happy Birthday is a victory song. If you have ever looked in the eyes of someone with cancer, you know why we’re here.”

Whitehead said this year’s event will be the first year that Blount County does a 24-hour event. The event will begin at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 21, on the campus of Maryville College and run until 12 a.m. It will start up again at 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 22, with events like a 5K run and a bicycle ride.

Whitehead said the Blount County Relay is the second largest in the state and is fifth in the mid-south division of the national Relay for Life. “Our goal this year is to raise $365,000, which is phenomenal. It’s all about saving lives,” she said. “Even though we’re having tough economic times, cancer still happens.”

Marlon Matthews was introduced as activities chair, and he told the audience the event would have a 1980s theme.

“I wanted to get the attention of the younger crowd,” he said.

The airbase will put up an obstacle course, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office will have a K-9 demonstration and there will be a children’s area with games and inflatables. Matthews also is planning activities for seniors. For everyone who enjoyed the Relay Idol Talent Competition in 2008, Jackie Midkiff, Jr., of Alcoa and a former contestant on “American Idol,” will help out as a judge in 2010. There will also be a Little Mr. and Miss Relay Pageant, he said.

The scavenger hunt will take on a “National Treasure” type theme with clues building on each other until the final prize is found. “That will be a great way to get everyone involved,” he said.

Matthews also said he wanted to get a NCAA College Football video game tournament organized for the Relay and a Relay paintball tournament.

Amy Habert, auction chair, said the auction would happen in two parts this year. “The majority of the big ticket items will auctioned at the celebrity waiter event in January,” she said. “There will still be items for auction at the Relay.”

Habert said having the auction at the celebrity waiters event will be good because it will be in a climate-controlled setting. “It’s going to be real exciting, and the real kicker will be at the end of the year. I think we’ll make a lot of money for Relay.”

Debbie Teffeteller, a three-year and eight-month survivor of breast cancer, told the audience that the Blount County Relay will be a CPS-3 enrollment location for the first time this year. This is the Third Cancer Prevention Study of the American Cancer Society and involves a 20 to 30-year commitment to answer surveys from the American Cancer Society bi-annually. “If you participate in the study, you will have to commit 16 hours over 30 years,” she said. “If you can go through chemo, radiation, surgery and throwing up, you can do 16 hours of paperwork.”

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