Think of it as a casualty of its own success.
Kansas City’s annual Celebration of Life rally — a joyful and often emotional recognition of cancer survival that has been a June tradition for 32 years — will be held for the last time this year.
Hundreds of celebrants are expected to attend this year’s rally, with music and food and stories of cancer survival. It is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. June 4 at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park, 47th Street and Roanoke Parkway, just west of the Country Club Plaza.
“This is the last rally that we’re doing,” said Linda Lyon, who is the vice president of the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, which began and runs the annual event, and the third and youngest daughter of Richard and Annette Bloch.
When Richard Bloch began his mission with the first rally in 1985, cancer advocacy was in its infancy. In the intervening decades, it has exploded.
Bloch, who co-founded the H&R Block tax preparation firm with his brother Henry, died at age 78 in 2004 of heart failure. But at age 52, after receiving a terminal diagnosis of lung cancer — which he beat and survived — Bloch dedicated much of the rest of his life to helping others survive the disease.
He, along with Annette, began the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, wrote several books on cancer survival and started a cancer hotline that linked newly diagnosed cancer patients with survivors. He worked with the National Cancer Institute to make a computerized database system, known as PDQ for Physicians Data Query, available to patients seeking treatments, and he began the R.A. Bloch Cancer Management Center and the R.A. Bloch Cancer Support Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
In 1990, the Blochs also funded and erected the Cancer Survivors Park. They subsequently helped fund the creation of 22 similar parks across the United States, plus two more in Canada.
Before the Kansas City park was even built, Bloch in 1985 held the first Celebration of Life rally downtown to recognize cancer survivors.
The idea took off and helped inspire the first National Cancer Survivors Day event in 1987, run by an independent organization. National Cancer Survivors Day events are now held in 700 cities.
“What’s really cool is that I don’t think my parents had any thoughts of it going elsewhere necessarily,” Lyon said.
Vangie Rich, the executive director of the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, said the time has come for the foundation to step away from running the local event. Rich, who has been the rally’s main organizer and also runs the hotline as the foundation’s sole paid employee, said that she soon plans to retire.
Lyon said it seemed timely for the foundation to step away from running the rally, as well as the hotline, as similar ones now exist. Dozens of organizations, including Turning Point in Kansas City, Cancer Action KC, Gilda’s Club and the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, now do similar work in providing hope and support for cancer patients locally and nationally.
What’s more, Annette Bloch this year turned 90, Rich said. While the family, through its philanthropy, continues to support cancer advocacy and research, that support over the years has evolved.
In November 2014, Annette Bloch pledged $10 million to expand cancer services at the University of Kansas Hospital. Construction on that campus is ongoing.
“I think if he was alive today,” Rich said of Richard Bloch, “he would be proud of what people around the United States are doing. It really is time for us to move along.”
Lyon said that some effort is being made to find others to run the yearly rally.
“When my dad started,” she said, “it really was where people weren’t speaking of cancer as they are now. Cancer was a death sentence in everybody’s mind. His whole mission was to help the next person who was diagnosed with cancer, and make them realize it wasn’t a death sentence — and to have hope.”
Each year, for more than three decades, that mission was accomplished.