It was a sea of purple to celebrate survival and honor the memories of those who lost their fight. Because all had a common thread, there were no strangers among the 267 participants at last Saturday's event. Cancer had touched everyone's life, and the day held many personal and emotional moments. Hugs and greetings were given as badges of life "I'm a two-year survivor." "I've been cancer-free since June 2010."
Kevin Meeker has run a Relay for Life booth since 2006, ever since his mother, Norma, died following a long battle with lung cancer. He attends every year, not only to honor his mother's memory, but to honor Ron Foster, one-time owner of Sears, as well. While Foster was also a cancer survivor, he died of a stroke.
Minarets seniors Victoria Owen and Michaela Brost raffled off a pink butterfly quilt, which was made for the mother of Minarets staffer Barbara Rascoe. Before the quilt was completed, Barbara's mother died of cancer, and Barbara donated the quilt to help raise funds to fight the fight. The seniors were there in support of Carma Cornell, 3, who has a tumor in her spinal chord.
While Carma was perfectly balanced in her father's arms during the one-lap survivor walk, Alexandra Brokaw, 3, was one of the many children enjoying the bounce house, sponsored by the Oakhurst Mountain Lions Club. Alexandra's mother, Rebecca Brokaw, a Yosemite High teacher, was a member of the YHS Service Club Relay Team.
"I'm an advisor for CSF," said Brokaw, "and community service is an important part of our club. I have family members who are survivors and some who have passed away, so, for me, this event hits close to home."
The Oakhurst Lutheran Church raffled off a quilt in memory of Dottie Phillips, a team captain for the church for two years before her death. The quilt was made by Pat Johnson out of past Relay for Life t-shirts.
Turning the tables on cancer, other attendees made special messages with glowing red glitter instead of "cancer kills" one purple hat read "kill cancer."
In his opening prayer, Oakhurst Luthern Church Pastor David Sebastian said, "We begin thanking You today for those who are here because of what we do this day. Each and every year, there are more and more people who are here because of the advances in treatment that have been made. Peoples' lives have been saved and lengthened because of this event, and events like it. The monies raised make it possible for greater research, developments and cures. And while we have not eliminated cancer, we have lessened the number of deaths it has caused and the lives it has destroyed."
Guest speaker, Jody Jo Mise of KISS Country 93.7 FM, became emotional during her recounting of battling breast cancer, saying the hardest part was telling the people she loved most her two teenage daughters, her sisters and her mother. Mise had a double mastectomy, underwent six months of chemotherapy, will have reconstructive surgery soon, and in July, will have a hysterectomy.
"Still," she said, "it's not really all that bad when you have loving support surrounding you." As of January 16, Mise is cancer-free.
Marylin Hayes of North Fork is a 50-year survivor.
In 1964, just before turning 21, Hayes was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, thyroid and para-thyroid.
"I wasn't feeling well, and thought I had a cold," Hayes explained. She went to see her doctor in Madera; he took a look at her throat and made an immediate appointment for a biopsy.
"I had no idea what a biopsy even was," Hayes continued. "There had been no cancer in my family before. I was so young, so ignorant to what cancer was, and I had three babies to raise 3 years, 2 years and 10 months old so I just couldn't let it get me down."
She went through cobalt radiation for six weeks, and doctors advised her the cancer was eradicated; 18 months later, it returned and in February 1966, Hayes had half her vocal chords removed, and again, she was advised the cancer had been removed. By August, the cancer returned again and Hayes underwent a complete laryngectomy.
"I didn't have a voice for 31 years, and only spoke in a whisper," Hayes said, believing that was the way it would be for the rest of her life. However, her life changed unexpectedly when her daughter, Dawn at age 31, was diagnosed with cancer in her jawbone.
"Dawn's doctor noticted how I talked and told me that he could fix my voice by puncturing my stoma and placing a voice prosthesis in my throat," Hayes said.
In 1997, Hayes had the surgical procedure, and because she hadn't spoken in so long, it took her about two years to learn to speak again. She now covers the hole in her throat so that air is captured to create sounds.
Today, both mother, 70, and daughter, 50, remain cancer-free. They try to make it an annual ritual to attend the Relay for Life event and walk as survivors.
"I just want everyone to know that there are survivors out there, and that God is with you and you can become well," Hayes said. "A lot of it has to do with your mental outlook. If you tell yourself that you're going to die, that you're not going to get well then you won't."
During the evening's Luminaria event, glow sticks in paper bags spelled out 'Hope' on the track bleachers, and attendees walked the remembrance lap while trumpet player Cole Burnett played Amazing Grace.
Thomas Miller took the stage to remember his father, Kelton, who died of T-cell Lymphoma in June 2007, when Thomas was 12 years of age.
"The loss of my dad was really hard on my family and on me," he said. "We would not have made it through without the grace of God, a very supportive Sierra Pines Church and this community."
A goal of $52,000
According to event coordinator Tami Michel, Relay for Life is the most significant fundraiser benefitting the American Cancer Society raising $400 million countrywide.
This year, the American Cancer Society set the Mountain Area goal at $52,000, however, that number was easily topped.
"As of 9 a.m. Sunday, we had raised $63,765," Michel said. " We still have more money coming in and have the potential to raise up to $70,000 before the end of August when our 2014 Relay officially closes."
"Moving to YHS allowed us the room we needed to put on a first-class event," Michel added. "EMC Relay for Life is about our community going on the offensive to combat this horrible thing called cancer, a disease that is attacking our families and loved ones. It took a team of amazing volunteers, willing participants and many generous donors and sponsors to make this a success. Our community stepped-up in a big way."
"We have participated in this event for 15 years," Sebastian said, "and have raised $210,000 (not including this year's total). We're gunning for a quarter-million. Our situation is probably the same as with every church in the area. Every Sunday, at least half the prayers are for people going in for cancer treatment, and those unfortunate to be under Hospice care."
To make donations to Relay for Life, relayforlife.org/easternmaderacountyca or see Michel at Ameriprise Financial in Oakhurst.
1st: Oakhurst Lutheran Church, $15,736; top winner sixth consecutive year.
2nd: Fire & Ice, $5,465
3rd: Hope Floats, $5,404
1st: Tara Ryan, $3,555
2nd: John Briggs, $2,170
3rd: Theresa Barry, $1,830
Recovery Car Race
1st junior division : Coarsegold Elementary School, "Cooking for a Cure"
1st adult division: Form Fitness