With thousands of people diagnosed with cancer every year, American Cancer Society Relay for Life participants are doing what they can to help raise awareness and funds for research and other programs that help those fighting cancer. Last year, the Mountain Area event raised $63,000 and event chairperson Nicole Meeker and team development leader Linda Maddox are encouraging the community to get involved and surpass last year's proceeds.
The 24-hour relay event will be held from 9 a.m., Saturday, May 18 to 9 a.m., Sunday, May 19 at Wasuma Elementary School, 43109 Highway 49 in Ahwahnee.
Relay for Life Teams
Relay teams will camp out on the Wasuma sports field while each team member takes turns running or walking the track for a portion of the 24 hour period.
"The more teams we have, the more excitement, energy, creativity, education and, most importantly, fundraising we bring to the event," Maddox said. "In a team, every single person counts and makes a difference in the fight against cancer."
People from all over Eastern Madera County -- and a few supporters from out of the area -- are forming teams to show their support.
The "Cookin' for a Cure" team is being formed at Coarsegold Elementary School. Team Captain Cami Cipolla said they hope to broaden students' horizons by educating and involving them in this community and the national event.
"It is very important for kids to be part of something bigger, something that benefits humanity," Cipolla said. "We wanted to form a team that involved our students, staff and parents in an event that benefits not only our community, but our world. Cancer has or will affect each of us in one way or another unless we fight back."
Maddox says everybody has their own reason for becoming involved -- whether it's because of personal loss or just to be active in the community.
"I do this to honor my mother and others who have lost their fights with cancer," Kevin Meeker said. "I do this for my family members and friends who are living with cancer. I do this so maybe someday we won't have to do this anymore."
Rebecca Hardison, a teacher at Yosemite High School who has been participating in the event for 14 years, has been everything from team captain to mentor to a student team captain. Not only is she involved to encourage student participation, but like many, she is involved for personal reasons.
"I relay for my father John Rice, who currently has cancer from his exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam, my sister Sarah Schneider who is a cancer survivor, and my aunt, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and for my uncle who survived thyroid cancer," Hardison said. "I also have had students and friends from church who have been survivors of the disease."
Relay for Life Event
Because it's the American Cancer Society's 100th anniversary, this year's theme is a "Century of Research - A Future of Cures." Teams are encouraged to represent different eras from the last 100 years through decorations, dress, and/or providing research from that decade to represent how far cancer research has come.
"Each person on the team has their own talents, ideas and experiences, so no one person has to do everything. It's easy to start your own team with friends, family or coworkers," Maddox said. "There is no minimum number required to form a team, so just jump right in and relay."
The event will kick-off with an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. that celebrates survivors, progress, accomplishments and hope. Then, cancer survivors will start the relay by taking the first lap around the track at 9:30 a.m. Afterwards they head off to the cafeteria where there will be a special survivor's breakfast. All survivors are welcome and encouraged to attend. Breakfast will be catered by Crab Cakes Restaurant and there will be a raffle, speakers and entertainment.
Throughout the day, teams are invited to host fundraisers at their campsite whether it's a raffle, bake sale or some other type. There will also be a relay store where people can buy Relay For Life memorabilia, such as clothing and souvenirs.
People are also invited to donate their hair to Locks of Love, participate in the Crazy Hat Contest or the Road to Recovery car race -- Flintstone-style cars built by teams to reflect their team name. The cars are judged separately on decorations and how well they do in the race. There are also Watermelon Eating Contests, Pie Eating Contests, various entertainers on stage, and DJ's all day and all night long.
Meeker said the first part of the event is for celebration, then in the evening it will be time for remembering those that have been lost to cancer with the luminaria ceremony at 8 p.m. Luminarias cost $10. Glow sticks will be placed in small bags around the track to inspire invidividuals and the community to continue fighting against cancer to save lives.
"It is a wonderful feeling to receive a get well card or an email, but seeing your community walking the track or working a booth means they really are here for me," said Carol George. "They are saying, 'I am here to make it so you and no one else will have to go through this again.'"
On top of celebrating survivors, Meeker said they will also be celebrating caregivers. It's the caregivers that are there all the time, helping those fighting cancer to make their doctors appointments and get a balanced meal.
"Without a good caregiver, it's really hard," Meeker said.
Because of that, there will be a caregivers corner at Relay for Life. There will be paper flowers that survivors can purchase as a thank you to their caregiver. On the flowers, they can write notes of encouragement and thanks and then take the plant home at the end of event.
The 24-hour event will wrap up with a closing ceremony at 9 a.m. May 19, where attendees will be energized to keep fighting against the disease throughout the coming year.
Event organizers are not only seeking relay team participants, they are also looking for raffle items and sponsorships. If interested in donating, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All proceeds from the event benefit the Central Valley Chapter of the American Cancer Society. Proceeds help with research, advocacy, patient services, the "Look Good, Feel Better" program, and costs for gas and hotel accommodations associated with doctor visits and treatments.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society recognized the Eastern Madera County Relay for Life event as the No. 2 area in the country for per capita fundraising at $3.45 per person.
"As a two-time survivor, I am thankful that the funds raised help with research," said Ed George. "That research has made it possible for people like myself, and many others, to survive. Hopefully it will lead to a cure soon."
Relay for Life parking lot sale
A parking lot sale will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 13 at the Oakhurst Medical Group parking lot, 40232 Junction Drive off Highway 49. Proceeds from the event go towards each relay team's fundraising goal to benefit the American Cancer Society and Cancer patient services in Eastern Madera County. Besides yard sale items, there will also be baked goods and raffle tickets for sale. For more information and to donate items, contact Nicole at (559) 760-4020, Linda at (559) 760-2614 or Donna at (559) 451-0163 or www.relayforlife.org/easternmaderacountyca