Taking cancer fight to Capitol

Friday, June 14, 2002

The American Cancer Society Celebration Bus made a stop in Cape Girardeau Thursday as part of a seven-month American Cancer Society tour through 40 states to raise awareness about cancer and promote the Relay for Life Celebration on the Hill event on Sept. 19, in Washington, D.C.

The tour began in Harlem, N.Y., on March 7.

From a distance the bus looks like any other charter bus painted purple on the top and bottom and gray on the sides. Up close it becomes clear that the sides aren't gray at all -- they're white, but have so many signatures written in black permanent marker that they just appear gray from a distance.

The bus is shrink-wrapped with a clear plastic material that can be signed and then removed when it becomes full of signatures.

54,686 signatures

So far the bus has traveled 23,331 miles, visited 275 cities and received more than 54,686 signatures from cancer survivors and cancer society supporters.

It has been wrapped four times.

Frank Shoemaker works with the cancer society and has been driving the bus, which is covered from its wheel wells to its roof and from its front windshield to its back bumper with signatures, since April 9.

"I get all kinds of honks, waves and thumbs ups as I drive down the road," said Shoemaker who lost his father to cancer. "It's very emotional."

Notes like "Keep fighting the good fight," "In memory of all who have gone before us" and "Moma, we miss you, love Zachary and Kelley," are squeezed onto every corner.

'Cancer fighters'

State Sen. Peter Kinder and mayors, Jay Knudtson and Paul Sander from Cape Girardeau and Jackson respectively, welcomed the bus to Cape Girardeau Thursday at Schnucks on Kingshighway.

"Cancer touches all of our lives in one way or another," Kinder said, remembering U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson who died of lung cancer in June 1996 and a cousin who battled with colon cancer. "We are all Americans and we are all cancer fighters."

Nancy Nettleton, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 1999, drove all the way from her home in Hayti, Mo., to sign the bus.

"I saw that it was going to be here and I said, 'I've got to go,'" she said. "I'm signing it in memory of my mother-in-law, uncle and cousin who all died of cancer, and celebrating the fact that I'm still here. It's a miracle."

Nettleton has been free of cancer for several months but continues to see an oncologist every three months to make sure the disease hasn't come back.

As Barbara Musgraves of Cape Girardeau scanned the signatures, she began to cry quietly.

Musgraves was diagnosed with breast cancer in December and has finished chemotherapy.

She is now undergoing radiation treatments and is in remission.

"There are so many names on the bus it seems unreal," said Musgraves, who attributes her defeat of the disease to her faith in God and her positive attitude. "To know there are so many people out there fighting this just brings tears to my eyes."

The bus will spend the rest of the week traveling throughout Illinois.

It will arrive in Washington on the morning of Sept. 19.

Kathy Sullivan, who trains cancer society staff members in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, said the hope is by the time the bus gets to Washington representatives in the House and Senate will realize that cancer is a major concern in America and should be a top priority.

"We want them to increase budget funding for cancer research and cancer-related issues," Sullivan said.

She said all of the signed, shrink-wrapped pieces of plastic will be on display at the Relay for Life Celebration on the Hill.

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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