Cancer fighter adds to resume
Rita Jones didn't realize she was starting a second career when she agreed to be a member of the De Soto Baptist Church's Relay For Life team seven years ago.
Jones not only joined the team, she was its captain. She then became head of the De Soto Relay's team recruitment committee and has been event chairwoman the past four years while still heading a team at De Soto's annual American Cancer Society event.
Her involvement continues to expand.
"The pay isn't so good, but the benefits are great," she said of her involvement in the fight against cancer. "Being able to meet so many great people and being able to help in such an able cause is great. I just love it."
Jones is now making plans to participate in the American Cancer Society's "Celebration on the Hill." She was selected earlier this year as the Kansas 3rd Congressional District's representative at the national cancer advocacy event Sept. 19 and 20 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Jones will take a banner signed by many of those who participated in the De Soto Relay For Life to the event.
Jones and others from the state will visit with the Kansas congressional delegation, advocating Congress reverse recent funding decisions. The state's two senators and four representatives will be asked to re-authorize and expand the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
"Congress has not increased funding for that," she said. "Right now, it reaches 1-in-5 women. Many uninsured women forego the screenings because they can't afford it. Our goal is to expand prevention by making it so all women can get screened."
The senators and representatives will also be asked to increase research funding to the National Cancer Institute, which was cut for the first time in a decade in the 2006 fiscal year with more cuts proposed for 2007, Jones said.
Finally, the six members of the congressional delegation will be asked to sign the American Cancer Society's Congressional Cancer Promise, which asks them to commit to elevate prevention measures, increase research funding and expand access to care.
"It asks them to think about the long term when they consider those kinds of things -- how many people it really affects."
Jones will have an elevated role in Washington, having been selected as one of the participants who will be available for media interviews.
"There should be 4,000 to 5,000 people there," Jones said. "They had one four years ago that got lots of media coverage. They're trying to set that up. I would expect the bigger news organizations to be there.
"I don't know what they want from me. I'll have a training on that."
Jones said she receives training early next month on another new responsibility. This month, Jones was named to an open seat on the Relay for Life Regional Council.
"If my heart's in it, I can't say 'no,'" she said.
Jones said she came by her dedication when she and her mother, Thelma Jones, cared for her grandmother Christine DeBerry as she was dying of pancreatic cancer.
"My mom and I watched her night and day after she was diagnosed," she said. "It was a real awakening experience.
"Cancer is very prevalent on my mother's side -- lots of cancer, going back generations."
Through her volunteer efforts, she hopes to spare her nieces and nephews the disease or the pain of watching a loved one die of cancer, Jones said.
An employee of the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, Jones also had two bosses, Sheriff Fred Allenbrand and his successor, John Foster, die of cancer. Perhaps that explains the support the office gives Jones in her volunteer work.
But it remains unpaid volunteer work, and Jones needs to pay for most of the trip to Washington. To help her with the expenses, there will be a free-will spaghetti dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the De Soto United Methodist Church, 8760 Kill Creek Road.