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Hundreds Join Cancer Fight At Oakdale Relay
Triumphantly carrying the Survivors banner on the closing lap, two-year cancer survivor Cassie Jones leads the rest of the participants as the event nears its end on Sunday. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader


By the time the dust had settled on the 24-hour event that was Relay For Life of Oakdale 2013, more than $153,000 had been raised in the fight against cancer.

The total is likely to go higher, as additional matching gifts from businesses and corporations are figured in and some ‘post event’ fundraisers are conducted.

There were more than 50 teams, totaling over 800 participants, that gathered on the Oakdale High School soccer fields from Saturday morning to Sunday morning, all coming together with a tri-fold goal. They came to Celebrate the loved ones that have survived the disease, Remember those who lost the battle, and Fight Back against a disease that doesn’t discriminate and has touched nearly everyone in some way.

This marked the 12th year of Oakdale’s event and it has always been held on the campus of Oakdale High, with a few different locations, the past couple on the soccer fields. With opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and the Survivor lap starting things off at 9 a.m., it was members of the teams then that took to the track. This year on the inaugural survivor lap, they were greeted at the midway point by caregivers, who presented special medals and then joined in on the first lap.

The idea behind the 24 hours is that cancer never sleeps, and to represent that, someone from each team is on the track at all times. Most people walk, though some jog or run their time, others take advantage of teams ‘selling’ wagon rides or offering to walk laps for people in exchange for some more money toward their team fundraising effort.

Opening ceremony speaker Gwen Schmitt, who was at Oakdale’s inaugural relay more than a decade ago, credited her survival to early detection of a lump in her breast. It was the information she received at that first relay that literally made all the difference.

“Relay educates, you educate,” she told those assembled at the opening ceremonies. “Early detection saved my life. Relay – this relay – saved my life.”

Now a Hero of Hope for the American Cancer Society, Schmitt serves as an inspirational speaker at events around the Central Valley. Her husband is also a cancer survivor and, in 2002, after going through her own treatment, she walked the Survivor Lap as a team captain and survivor, with her husband and mother. She lost her mom the day after the 2002 relay, but stayed involved and was again a participant in 2003.

Teams offered onsite fundraisers, information, there was entertainment and special theme laps throughout the day, and the popular Ms. Relay Pageant returned with some brave male participants donning dresses and heels to collect money by ‘working the track’ to raise funds for the cause. ‘Peaches’ was the money winner, the People’s Choice award for favorite contestant went to ‘Michelle’ – better known as Michael Echivarria, a fifth grader at Fair Oaks Elementary.

Throughout the event, special activities were hosted in the Survivor Tent and this year there was an accompanying Caregiver Corner so those that aid the cancer patient could take a break and enjoy some quiet time themselves. Evening brought the luminaria ceremony and the story of young Kyle Speer, who battled leukemia for more than seven years, after being diagnosed in December 1996 at 22 months of age. His father, Ron Speer of River Oak Grace Church, who served this year as Advocacy Chair at the event, shared his son’s story.

“Our whole world just spun out of orbit,” Speer said of having a child diagnosed with the life-threatening disease.

After two years, Kyle was declared cancer free and became involved in the effort to raise money for leukemia research. Though he had a 98 percent chance of remaining cancer free, Speer said Kyle was again hit by the disease and he ultimately lost his battle but had a far-ranging impact, including having a library started in a hospital where he was treated, to allow children access to books while hospitalized.

“Pretty remarkable things have come out of my son’s life,” Speer said.

Luminaria bags recognizing those lost to the disease and celebrating those winning the fight lit the track for walkers throughout the night.

“Each one represents a treasured relationship,” said Luminaria chairperson Lisa Bruce.

The event saw more than 175 survivors take part in a variety of activities, there was a special Kids Kamp for younger participants and the Sunday morning closing ceremonies also included the presentation of a Patient Courage award to two-time cancer survivor Dorothy Skinner, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

“She’s someone near and dear to my heart,” said Relay Chairperson Heather Murray of Skinner, who is the mother of Vickie Cordoza, this year’s ACS staff partner for Oakdale’s Relay and the chairperson of the first three events in Oakdale, from 2001 to 2003.

With $153,174.18 accounted for at the closing ceremonies on Sunday, Murray reminded those attending that there is still time to add to the total.

“We have a long way to go, let’s finish the fight,” she said of working toward a $178,000 goal this year. “Relay is 24 hours here, but we relay year-round.”


Next week, look for an updated total and a report on some special Team and Individual Awards.