Shortly after 6 p.m. last Friday, survivors and caregivers set off on their lap, the first trip around the track of the American Cancer Society’s Auburn Relay for Life at Auburn Memorial Stadium.
Most made it on their own steam, some leaned on canes or rode wheelchairs. One little girl, sporting a survivor’s sash, rode high on her daddy’s shoulders.
Throughout the night and ending at noon the next day, 60 teams with names like the Battling Baristas, Kids who Love Gary, the Cancer Busters, the Red Hot Chili Walkers and the Riverside Life Savers walked under the clear skies, passing bags lit to honor cancer’s survivors and to remember those who didn’t make it.
Every walker heartily endorsed throwing everything they have at cancer – starting with their two feet.
Some, like Barb Hedley came to support a friend and loved one, Gildo Rey Elementary School teacher Margee Stevely. But for James Reed, 42, thin, bald, breathing with the help of an oxygen tank, their link to the cause was direct and painful to see. The Seattle man was diagnosed in January. He did not disclose the nature of his cancer.
“I try to be positive,” Reed said. “But it’s hard;, it hits you so fast. I’ll be all right. I sure as hell hope this walk helps.”
Relay chairman J.D. Drollinger said as of 9 a.m. Saturday the relay had met its fundraising goal of $130,000, with more money coming in.
Gildo Rey Elementary School’s 20-person plus team came out to honor Stevely. She was diagnosed in 2004, and while treatment put her cancer in remission, she learned 15 months ago it had returned. Today she is on a medical leave of absence after seven years teaching at the school.
“I feel very humbled this year that my school decided to have a team in my honor,” Stevely said. “I am still doing chemo, and this is right after chemo, so I don’t feel terrific. It’s a very honoring event. This walk is very moving and the bag lighting is very moving.”
Ron Shackelford talked about his mother, Jan Shackelford, who died in September of 2006 after an eight-year battle with lymphoma.
“It’s a way for me to help other people who have cancer,” Shackelford said. “The more money we raise, the better the chance we have to find a cure for this. That’s my hope. I’d like see a cure. We are so close in so many areas. We need to find a cure so people don’t have to suffer.”
A year and a half ago Shantelle Carlson was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. But on Friday, the Starbucks barista laced up her walking shoes to captain the Battling Baristas.
“It came as quite a shock,” Carlson said of her diagnosis. “I started chemotherapy right away, but I didn’t finish it because I got sick and landed in the hospital. I almost died, but I made it through. Today it’s in remission.
“We need the money for research so people can survive. If there had not been money for research for my cancer, I would not be here today,” she said.