Skyline’s first Relay for Life is fruitful

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Skyline’s first Relay for Life is fruitful

 (Stephen Benoit)

(Stephen Benoit)

(Stephen Benoit)

(Stephen Benoit)

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Skyline College hosted its very first Relay for Life event on May 15. A growing trend around the country, Skyline’s participation in the relay brought the community together to fight cancer and make a personal mark to benefit the cause.

Relay for Life is the largest fundraiser of its type, spanning the United States and bringing together local communities to combat cancer and help people within these communities struggling with it. In attendance was not only the people who are struggling with cancer, but also people who have bonds to those suffering. Young people were everywhere at the event, from the tiniest of tots to the boy scouts to college students—all there to show their support in the fight against cancer and to raise not just funding, but also awareness.

The bonds that tied everyone together were apparent by the pledges written on the Relay for Life banner. Furthermore, there were large amounts of luminarias around the field with touching messages and farewells to honor those who survived the struggle with cancer and remembering lives lost. When I met one of the organizers for the event, I asked him what made him want to put this event together.

“Cancer affects all of us in one way or another,” said Gary Chow, American Cancer Society Community Director for the region. “The idea is it’s something tough to talk about for people, and especially for those who have it. In fact, it’s very much an isolating factor to people. They feel that they are alone in their battle, but actually the communities in essence are supportive of them. This means we have a vehicle to do that, and that’s what Relay for Life is all about—a chance for people to celebrate survivor-ship, showing community support, and to remember those that we lost to cancer. That’s what this is all about—to learn about the services we provide at the Cancer Society, which are all free of charge. We just have to teach people take advantage of it.”

The American Cancer Society came appropriately prepared to educate all the attendees, providing large amounts of pamphlets for programs offered by the society. Chow also has a personal attachment to the cause—he lost his wife as well as several family members to cancer.

Throughout the evening, volunteers were handing out pamphlets and encouraging people to sign personal pledges to do something to fight cancer. These pledges were anything from simple changes like eating better and exercising more to other more intricate promises. Some volunteers were Skyline students, such as Patty Lapizar.

“I’ve been doing this for a couple years now,” said Lapizar. “First, I was helping my brother be a captain and I didn’t really know anything about it, and last year I was actually a participant. My family and I do this because our grandmother passed away from cancer. It’s something that’s really close to our hearts.”

The programs offered by the American Cancer Society are not all traditional methods, but are helpful in ways that traditional medicine can’t really help. An example of this would be the “Look good…Feel Better” program, where women dealing with cancer are taught by trained volunteer cosmetologists to deal with the negative side effects of cancer treatments. According to Chow, the women in the program are given full cosmetic kits—not just samples—but full kits that you would expect from a retailer.

One Skyline student that willingly participated in the relay was Ashley Smith.

“I’m walking so that cancer won’t be as prevalent as it is right now,” Smith said.

Seeing the recurring theme of family bringing all these people together, I asked him if there was anyone in particular he was walking for.

“I’m walking for the grandfather I never knew,” Smith said. “He died of cancer just before my dad married my mom. So, I would like to think that this will help in raising enough funds to prevent such a thing.”

The Relay For Life event ran from 10 a.m. May 15 to 10 a.m. May 16. The participants braved thick fog, heavy winds and cold 47-degree weather all night long. The American Cancer Society provided free meals with suggested donations for people participating in the walk, donating any leftovers to a nearby homeless shelter. The donated food really showed the community support, and in fact Chow mentioned that other groups had showed interest, but couldn’t get together on short notice. Some of the places that helped to cater the event included Famous Johnny’s Pizza, the South San Francisco Rotary Club, and the House of Bagels in San Francisco.

There were 19 teams that participated, a total of 134 participants, and 18 survivors that came out to put a face to the message. All in all, the event raised over $7,000, which the organizers seemed happy about—especially since they had only a short amount of time to organize the event. The participants also seemed to be beaming with pride about the cause they had just helped, some even staying to help clean up when the event was over.

The main event of the Relay for Life was the lap around the track “after dark.” There was easily at least one luminaria for every foot around the track. These lumanarias were glowing in remembrance of all those who have won the battle with cancer, and all those who did not.

Before the walk, John Andrews, a three-time cancer survivor and legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society spoke.

“Looking at all of you, I see this wonderful, amazing group of people who share power and commitment and love and support,” Andrews said. “You give me hope for fighting cancer.”

Andrews thanked the people in attendance who were present in order to lend support of a family member who is currently struggling with, or had previously battled cancer. And to the people who were there just to help bring awareness to the cause, Andrews called heroes, and thanked them for coming despite a lack of personal connection.

“I want to personally thank you for participating in Relay for Life,” Andrews said. “You are making a real difference in fighting cancer. You will make a difference in the lives of so many people, and a lot of them you will never know—and you know—I’m one of those people.”

Andrews went on to explain that at the turn of the millennium, life had been great for him. But all of a sudden, he got sick and lightning struck him not once, but twice.

“I was diagnosed with both non-Hodgkins lymphoma, stage IV and acute lymphocytic leukemia,” Andrews said. “And in that heartbeat, my life changed forever. The doctors said I probably had about six months to live—even with treatment.”

Reactions from the crowd was a mass of shock, not that in that he had both those forms of cancer, but that he was standing in front of them today. It was obvious that his story about his battle with cancer ended happier than most, but nonetheless was an interesting one. He also told his story about how he prepared for death by writing his will, and traveling around the country to say goodbye to his loved ones.

“But, because I live in the Bay Area, I learned of a research program—a new cancer drug that was developed right here at Genentech,” Andrews said. “I was able to participate in that clinical trial at UCSF, and I got real sick—even sicker. I was a walking skeleton, and I lost all my hair—but I didn’t die. That new drug saved my life and my doctors call me their miracle patient, but I know it’s because of that drug. But, it’s also because of all the people in my life, and people like you who supported me and fought cancer with everything they had.”

Andrews went on to talk about how his best friend and life partner was diagnosed with untreatable brain cancer 18 months later. He said that at that point he made a vow to fight cancer with everything that he had. His sister died of breast cancer after a two-year battle, and has served to reinforce that vow.

“So I’m alive today,” Andrews said. “But so many are not, and tonight is the night where we remember those folks. We think of them, we honor them, and we pray and hope that no one has to go through this ever again. So, I’m the miracle patient right? But really, each of you is the miracle—you’re here, you’re doing something positive, you are making a difference, and I want you to know that what you are doing is wonderful.”

After some people in the crowd spoke, everyone began their lap in the descending darkness to remember those that that have gone before us in their struggle with cancer.

 

 

 

For more information please visit www.cancer.org or call 1.800.227.2345 where the phone lines are open 24/7. You can also contact the local division at 650.578.9902.