By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Oakdale Relay For Life Preps For Ninth Year Kick-Off
Dawn Jerkins, far right carried the signature banner during the opening ceremonies at Relay for Life 2009 along with fellow survivors Debra Baird and Marilyn Boatright. Jerkins will be the first cancer survivor to serve as chairperson for Oakdale’s Relay for Life. - photo by Leader File Photos

Leaves are finally falling, harvest for many growers is in full swing and the committee of Relay for Life Oakdale is ready to once again challenge the community to show its hope.

As community members begin the hustle and bustle of the fall and pending holiday season, the RFL committee has prepared a kick-off event for the 2010 season to help teams prepare for next spring. The 2010 Relay for Life Kick-Off will be hosted on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Oakdale High School Little Theater at 739 West G St., Oakdale. Team captains, participants, as well as curious first timers are invited to attend the evening event and celebrate the coming relay season. Persons interested in forming a team may contact Team Coordinator Debbie Dobbins at 602-0036 or e-mail

For general event information contact Event Chairperson Dawn Jerkins at 605-4955.

Spring — at first glance and consideration — seems a long way off. Yet in just six months and a handful of days the track will once again be marked on the south field of Oakdale High School and the event will be raring to go. The Ninth Annual Relay for Life Oakdale will be hosted on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25, 2010.

Relay for Life is the official fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, a 501(c)3 not for profit organization. Each year over 5,000 communities nationwide gather together and ‘Relay’ with one common goal — fighting cancer, saving lives and providing services and research to assist survivors and their families for years to come.

While the ultimate goal remains the same for the 2010 year, the American Cancer Society has adopted a platform that adds an exciting twist to the event … the Society launched the ‘Official Sponsor of Birthdays’ Campaign.

“The fact that 11 million cancer survivors will celebrate another birthday this year makes clear that together with our supporters, the American Cancer Society is making real progress against this disease,” Elizabeth T.H. Fontham, national American Cancer Society volunteer president, noted in a press release. “Cancer death rates have been dropping steadily since the early 1990s, which translates to some 650,000 lives — and countless birthdays — saved from cancer during that period.”

Relay for Life as an event will celebrate its own birthday, nationally as 2010 marks 25 years since the idea was first conceived. The event began in Tacoma, Washington in 1985, when one man, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon took to the track. Dr. Klatt walked and ran around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Through the support of his family, friends and patients his efforts raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society. One man’s selfless action, now 25 years later has been transformed into a crusade of communities.

According to the Society website, “25th birthday year, Relay For Life is the world’s largest movement to end cancer. It brings together more than 3.5 million people each year to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease. Relay For Life events are held in more than 5,000 communities throughout the United States and 20 other countries. Since 1985 these events have raised more than $3 billion to help support the Society’s lifesaving mission, while providing an opportunity for cancer survivors to celebrate their experience and make lasting connections with others.”

The website also reports that in 2008 the organization’s demand for service increased by 20 percent. The increase is believed to be primarily attributed to the falling economy of 2008 and the increased pool of individuals without healthcare.

While Oakdale is immune to many things, cancer and a less than desirable 2008-2009 economy did not skip this town. In spite of it all, over 50 teams raised over $220,000 locally in the 2008 season and well over a thousand area survivors are grateful they did.

Looking not at what was, but what can be is incoming Event Chair Dawn Jerkins. A goal of 65 teams, $265,000 and 125 survivors to be honored has been set for the April 2010 event.

Jerkins relocated to Oakdale from Visalia in 2006. She is a wife, mother of three boys and owner of her own daycare business. She is also a survivor of cervical cancer. Her cancer was diagnosed in late 2001 after experiencing what she describes as abnormal conditions during her menstrual cycle. Fortunately, her cancer was caught early on, which often makes the difference in prognosis.

“I was very blessed,” she said of her diagnosis. “Ironically, I had just signed up for Visalia’s Relay for Life.”

At the time that Jerkins made the commitment to participate on a team, her medical findings were believed to be pre-cancerous cells. She did not yet know she had cancer. According to the survivor she had decided to walk in memory of her grandfather and in honor of her husband’s mother and sister.

As a participant, she shared, she managed to make it through the entire event without learning anything about the American Cancer Society and the services it provides. One month following the event, she had surgery, which confirmed the cells were actually cancerous.

“I went through my recovery without any information on the American Cancer Society and all of its services,” she admitted.

Once she did learn, the fire in her belly was officially lit.

“I didn’t want anybody to not know about ACS,” Jerkins said.

She first relayed in Oakdale in 2007. New to the community and working at Curves at the time, her manager handed her a piece of mail that had come from the Team Development Committee. An inflatable beach ball with the words ‘Bounce Back to Relay,’ was sent to solicit Curves (a national sponsor) to rejoin the event by forming a team. Jerkins took on the challenge and attended her first team meeting that same night.

As she navigated her way through the Oakdale Relay experience she was both touched and impressed by a number of things.

“The community and how well they get behind the event,” she said. “Being new to this town … the people that reached out to me and said, ‘You’re a survivor? Let us do this for you.’ It was really impressive.”

Following her second year as team captain, she expressed an interest in serving on the committee. Envisioning herself in the position of luminaria or survivorship chair, Jerkins welcomed the meeting with then-chair Jeff Hood with eagerness and enthusiasm. During that meeting Hood asked her to be his co-chair and commit to taking on the task of future chair for the 2010 event. Jerkins agreed.

Admitting to being somewhat shocked at what she had signed on for when she returned home, the survivor said to her husband, “Cancer doesn’t care what you have on your plate, it comes at you anyway. So I’m going to do this.”

Looking ahead to the coming season, Jerkins and the planning committee are already hard at work, with hopes of continuing to host a memorable community gathering.

“I have a whole new respect for the committee after watching the behind-the-scenes last year,” the survivor said. “Coming from a team captain, you don’t realize how well the committees work together and how much they put into this to make it happen.”

And as for her personal goals as the 2010 Event Chairperson she said, “I’m hoping to get more advocacy out there. If anyone is walking in off the street … they may not know what Relay is. Cancer may not have affected them yet, but later on down the line if it does, I want them to remember that Relay for Life and the information they may have received.”