In keeping with tradition, the sun broke through on Saturday, April 24 and supporters of the Ninth Relay For Life Oakdale showed up ready to walk and raise money for the American Cancer Society. By Sunday morning’s closing ceremony the event had grossed close to $223,000 of its $225,000 goal.
With donations accepted through the end of August, both committee and staff of the event are confident that Oakdale will far exceed its $225,000 goal.
Stormy weather and cold temperatures earlier in the week left many wondering what the weekend would hold. By Friday evening hope and optimism could be felt around the track as volunteers and team members began setting up for the weekend’s 24-hour event.
Kicking off the opening ceremony on Saturday morning, Oakdale High School educator and ACS volunteer Pete Simoncini led the spectators and participants with a charge that would wake up the sleepiest of persons in the 8:30 a.m. hour.
“We are going to celebrate, remember and fight back,” Simoncini told the crowd as he instructed them to follow suit. As the crowd joined in with Simoncini, the energy of the following 24 hours was set.
“This year we are excited to recognize the 25th birthday of Relay For Life,” event co-chairperson Erin Pearson said. “Happy Birthday!”
Pearson went on to share the gratitude and pride she felt for the efforts of the community, as well as the event committee and most importantly, its survivors.
Returning as a guest speaker for the second time was Dr. Carolyn Bruzdzinski, Chief Mission Delivery Officer, California Division.
Bruzdzinski addressed the Oakdale event for the first time at the 2007 Relay For Life and was asked to return this year, in conjunction with the CPS-3 (Cancer Prevention Study) hosted by this year’s event.
“Oakdale has a special place in my heart,” she said. “This is the first town I spoke to after joining the American Cancer Society.
“As I drove through town, I loved seeing the purple ribbons and the painted windows. It is evident that this town believes in this event.”
She continued discussing the varying ways money raised from the event continue to make a difference through research and patient services, and highlighted the importance of the CPS-3 study.
“This is an opportunity to help not only your children, but your children’s children,” she said of the study. “To help our children have a better world with less cancer.
“You are the messengers,” she added. “You are the catalysts to change the world, so we have a world with less cancer and celebrate more birthdays.”
Taking to the stage as the Survivor Speaker, Oakdale’s own Kevin Brunk echoed the importance of the words shared by Dr. Bruzdzinski.
Brunk said that as Relay For Life was being pioneered in Tacoma, Washington in 1985, he was beginning his own cancer journey. In June of that same year he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 22.
As he shared the ups and downs of his journey, he continued to reference three things, his wife and best friend, Cheryl, his friends and family and the American Cancer Society.
“My diagnosis changed my life,” he said.
Brunk stated that once he was in remission, doctors shared that with his type of cancer, reappearances or complications may occur once he turned 40.
“I have had the most blessed and full life I could ever imagine,” Brunk said. “I feel like I’m on bonus time now, but I want at least 20 (years) more.”
The theme for the year, celebrating more birthdays, is important for all survivors, he said.
“Why do we keep Relaying?” Brunk asked the group. “There has been progress, but not enough. What you do at events like this saves 300 lives a day. That is 100 more compared to 1991.
“Because of what you do at events like this 11 million survivors will celebrate another birthday this year. We can do this,” Brunk said with an emotion-filled voice. “There is no finish line until there is a cure.”
By 10 a.m. the activity at the Cancer Prevention Study 3 (CPS-3) tent had begun and people began the journey of aiding the organization with the information needed to help in the research process.
Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., some 210 participants enrolled in the study, a number which exceeded the expectations of Chairperson Jill Clayton.
Dr. Bruzdzinski said the history of Oakdale’s relay, which is one of success and widespread participation, was among the reasons it was selected for the study.
“People here are committed,” she said of the devotion to Relay and raising funds for ACS.
As questionnaires were being completed on one side of the track, fundraising continued all around the site. Opportunity drawings were offered by teams, which included an iPad, Schwinn bicycle and even a doghouse. Other fundraising efforts were achieved through teams selling shaved ice, ice cream, tri-tip sandwiches and more.
Also contributing to the close to $223,000 raised was the sale of Luminarias, with the white paper bags lit at night and adorned with names and sentiments of loved ones lost to cancer as well as survivors who continue to celebrate birthdays.
Kama Robinson-Wright spoke during the evening Luminaria Ceremony. Robinson-Wright is the sister of the late Troy Robinson, who passed away from leukemia in January of 1995.
Wright shared with the crowd that this was her first time at Oakdale’s Relay For Life and thanked everyone for their efforts and dedication. She shared her feelings on the importance of such an event and the funds that are raised, noting that everyone who was present — be it a sister, brother, mother, father, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, grandparent, co-worker or friend — was somehow touched by cancer.
As dawn broke on Sunday, a new day lingered for all who had given so much in the past 24 hours. Sleep had not been in abundance for the 24-hour period, yet hope had.
During the closing ceremony, participants were reminded to Celebrate the survivors and the progress that has been made, to Remember the lives lost as they battled the disease and to Fight Back through fundraising, so progress may continue and more people will continue to celebrate birthdays.