Some numbers you never forget. The number of cancer-free years. The number of months of chemotherapy. The date of diagnosis and the date treatment ended. The number of months between the diagnosis of a loved one and their losing the fight.
Last weekend’s 15th annual Relay for Life event was very personal for the 469 who participated to celebrate survival and to remember those who lost their battle with cancer.
The air was filled with quiet, yet determined hope, as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” blasted from the speakers. Boots were scattered throughout to match the theme, “Give cancer the boot.”
On the limbs of a small Manzanita tree were distinctly colored ribbons, tied by survivors to represent the different types of cancer. Eight-year survivor Carolyn Honnette, 66, of Coarsegold tied a pink ribbon to a branch to represent her battle with breast cancer.
“It was the year from hell,” Honnette remembered. “My first husband died, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer six months later. Now I’m a lot stronger. I’m a lot more confident ... and I’m still here.”
She attended the event with her current husband of three years, John, whose first wife died of breast cancer.
Oakhurst Lutheran Church member Pat Johnson created a raffle quilt made from Relay for Life t-shirts gathered over the years by Rogene Abney, whose husband, Howard, is a cancer survivor.
Raley’s laid out eye-catching fresh produce, as well as energy bars and cold thirst-quenchers for those walking the laps throughout the day. Graduates of Lori Blate’s YHS Special Ed class were busy making the luminaria bags, which rimmed the inside of the Yosemite High track. The bags were weighed down with small sample packets of pet food, which were donated to the EMC SPCA following the event. Blate said her class has participated in Relay for Life since its inception in the Mountain Area as a way to thank the community for its continued support.
During the opening prayer, Sierra Pines Youth Pastor Michel Musacchio, who lost his father to pancreatic cancer, said, “We need faith, and we need community to hold us tight during these times. We need to stop losing people to cancer, and we need to trust there will be a cure.”
It was the first Relay for Life for “Hero of Hope” speaker Jeannie Burkhart of Clovis. Diagnosed with breast cancer on Feb. 5, 2013, she began her journey from a confident, healthy 50-year-old to fighting for her life. In November of that same year, she had a double mastectomy.
“I felt great, came from healthy stock,” Burkhart said. “I didn’t feel sick until after I went through chemotherapy.”
She also said she didn’t consider herself a “hero,” that everyone who continues to fight, or those who didn’t make it through ... are all heroes.
This EMC event hit the $1 million fundraiser mark in its ninth year. This year’s total as of early Monday morning was $51,729. With the event officially closing at the end of August, that total will increase.
“Though our totals are lower this year, I am thrilled,” event coordinator Tami Michel said. “I am thrilled because I have never attended an event that involves this community on every level like this year’s Relay. It was exciting to see Oakhurst Sierra Rotary join as a team. Many of their team members had not relayed before, and their addition of hula hoop bubble pools provided so much fun. The Kiwanis, the Soroptimists, the Rotarians and the Lions were all key in services they provided. I am more encouraged than ever before at the potential we have for growth. I believe next year we will see many new teams develop just from some of those first timers.”
At dusk Saturday evening, the Luminaria Ceremony began, honoring YHS staff member Rachel Boswell, who lost her battle to cancer last July. Following an emotional tribute by friends and an Acapella rendition of “Danny Boy” by Jordan Michel, the silent crowd walked a lap, led by cancer survivor John Rice, with torch in hand to remember all who have died.
“EMC Relay is about raising awareness, providing facts about cancer, educating the community on services and programs and most importantly spending 24 hours loving on each and every survivor and their families,” Frank Bigelow, Jr., logistics coordinator said. “... It is truly about a community taking up the fight unified against this war on cancer.”
Team: Oakhurst Lutheran Church, $10,894, top winner seventh consecutive year.
Individual: Kristin Bonillas, $3,705.
Best- themed campsite: YHS for educational statistics and theme.
Most spirited: YHS led by Kristin Bonillas and Ryleigh Hinojosa.
To make donations to Relay for Life, relayforlife.org/easternmaderacountyca; or see Tami Michel at Ameriprise Financial in Oakhurst.