ROCK SPRINGS –- The organizers of the annual Cowboys Against Cancer benefit and banquet may have tables ready for 900 people at the Sweetwater Events Complex on Saturday, but that’s not nearly enough seats for all the volunteers who have kept the nonprofit running for 25 years.
Cowboys Against Cancer has been supporting cancer patients in Sweetwater County by directing more than $5.5 million to thousands of residents to cover costs related to cancer treatment. By sharing their talents and gifts, the volunteers ensure nearly 150 people receive grants every year. Their contributions turn cancer patients into survivors.
“Every single person brings something,” said Margaret Parry, the president and founder of Cowboys Against Cancer.
She is quick to recognize those who have invested time and money in the cause, such as the cooks and chefs, artisans who offer their creations for the auctions, decorators, musicians, audio and visual crew, donors and other sponsors. Parry said so many people have helped over the years that she couldn’t even estimate their number.
“I just want to be sure that the volunteers know how much they are appreciated, and this event would not happen without them,” she said.
That fact that the nonprofit is 100% volunteer means more money goes to cancer patients. CAC saves money by not having paid staff or dedicated office space.
“Everyone had to work for free,” Parry said of her goal from the start.
Even the items donated for the auctions, which are plentiful, are kept in a donated space.
Cowboys Against Cancer started by giving grants of $200 per patient. The amount rose to $500 and then $1,000. Today, people can receive $1,500 if they are receiving treatment in Sweetwater County and $3,000 for treatment outside the county. To apply, people need to have been a Sweetwater County resident for at least six months, have a letter from their doctor and fill out the short form found at cowboysagainstcancer.com.
Parry noted the extra costs incurred when seeking treatment such as gas, lodging, food, and child care, especially when people travel far from home. She said the transportation, time commitments and other burdens weigh extra heavily upon the elderly and people with children. She knows women who elected to undergo a mastectomy and have their breast tissue removed because they couldn’t get radiation treatment locally.
Of course, more treatment options have arisen since CAC was first formed. The Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County is an affiliate partner of the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Center. Parry called the cancer center “a godsend.”
She said people can receive care and still stay at home and in their comfort zone. Additionally, she said getting cancer treatment locally reduces disruptions to family and work schedules and allows people to stay busy, which is important. A cancer survivor herself, she said when you’re away from home and the responsibilities that come with it, you have more time to fixate on your condition. Being able to get back to work or to family more quickly is preferable.
“(It’s) a real blessing that we have this up here,” Parry said.
NOT YOUR USUAL FUNDRAISER
Parry said Cowboys Against Cancer’s yearly benefit stands out among other fundraisers. Volunteers aim to go over the top in everything ranging from the decorations to the menu to the auctions. For example, the oversized sequined cowboy hat and saddle are hard to miss.
Then there’s the food that’s prepared by celebrity chefs. This year there are more than 40 chefs and cooks, including many certified culinary educators or certified executive chefs. At least 10 have been attending CAC at least 10 years. Some have lost a spouse or another family member to cancer. Some just want to support a good cause.
They pay their own way to get to Sweetwater County, traveling from states including Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Arkansas and Wyoming. Hotels put them up for free, but they spend most of their time on their feet in the kitchen. Parry said they start cooking immediately Friday because everything is made from scratch, even desserts. There’s a waiting list to join the crew in the kitchen, and Parry said it's touching how they travel, work in an unfamiliar kitchen and forego expensive salaries to prepare exceptional meals.
Saturday’s fundraiser also features four auctions: silent, dollar, live, and banana. The silent auction is run electronically online, meaning people don’t need to be in attendance to participate. Once people register at cowboysagainstcancer.com/2019-Benefit, they can bid through 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2.
The dollar auction allows people to enter a raffle for noteworthy prices. Parry said the price is kept low so anyone can have a chance to win. The live auction is a highlight of the evening program, and people must be in attendance to participate.
The banana auction takes place shortly after dinner concludes, and attendees have to scramble to buy one of the bananas, which is connected to a prize. Parry said former Gov. Dave Freudenthal loved auctioning off the bananas when he attended the benefit in the past.
Auction items include trips, a Gibson guitar, football and basketball tickets, jewelry, tires, an Old English bulldog and a black Labrador puppy. More items are posted at https://one.bidpal.net/cac2019.
“Our event is entertainment for people. They know they’re helping,” Parry said. “You know you can go to Cowboys Against Cancer and donate to help someone."
MEMORIAL WALL AND SURVIVOR SPOTLIGHT
The setup at the Events Complex includes a Memory Wall of those who have passed away. The intent is to remember friends and loved ones, celebrate the lives they lived, recall how they touched others, and teach the next generation about the importance of the past.
Parry said people often bring photos to add to the wall. Photos and narratives can also be sent to Cowboys Against Cancer at 1893 Dewar Drive, Rock Springs, WY 82901. Additional guidelines are available at cowboysagainstcancer.com/memory-wall.
During the benefit, cancer survivors get to enjoy a moment in the spotlight to celebrate their victory or ongoing fight with cancer.
“Each year as we invite our cancer survivors to the stage to be recognized during the benefit and banquet, we marvel at not only the increased numbers in attendance, but also at the positive, forceful determination they exhibit in letting us know that we are winning the battle,” the CAC website states.
Parry said if a person who is terminal wants to be there, you know there’s something special about the event.
Every year, Cowboys Against Cancer brings people together to share laughter and tears, but Parry said they leave feeling good –- even if they’ve lost someone.
Whether people contribute a little or a lot, it all goes toward stopping cancer. Cowboys Against Cancer continues to improve and save lives, and Parry stressed it’s all because of the dedication of the people supporting their friends, family members and neighbors.
“The reason it has been successful is because of the volunteers,” she said.