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Sundown Celebration ACS Travels Under The Sea To Raise Money For Research
Midway entrance
The midway will once again feature carnival style gaming for adult participants at the 11 th Annual Sundown Celebration Gala this Saturday, Aug. 7 beginning at 7 p.m. The event will be hosted at the home of Jim and Anita Duarte of Duarte Nursery in Hughson. - photo by COURTESY OF ACS

Finishing touches are being made, the pigs are being prepped (for racing, not eating) and in less than 72 hours, a team of volunteers with the help of some staff will host the 11th Annual American Cancer Society’s Sundown Celebration, An Evening Under the Sea.

“It’s going to be a lovely event,” ACS Director, Community Services Cheryl Brunk said of the Aug. 7 event.

This year’s event will be hosted at the home of Jim and Anita Duarte of Duarte Nursery in Hughson. Organizers expect about 350 guests to attend. The event begins at 7 p.m. and concludes at midnight. Tickets are $125.

The Sundown Celebration Gala is described by ACS as “nothing like a typical dress-up, sit-down, charity fundraiser dinner. Instead, guests enjoy mouth watering delights and dine on their favorite fare, visit the hosted bar, try their luck in the midway, vie for prized auction items and cheer for their favorite racing pig.”

This year’s event will be catered by Tressetti’s World Caffe, Tex-Mex from La Morenita, pasta and lemon chicken from Chicago Uno’s and seafood and Mediterranean chicken from O’Brien’s, as well as a variety of desserts.

Acting in the lead staff role for the event, Brunk shared the importance of the volunteers involved with this year’s Gala.

Brunk stated that she and one other staff person give a portion of their time from the day-in and day-out operations of ACS to work on the Gala. It will take the efforts, however, of the 75 committed volunteers to pull it off without a hitch. A goal of $100,000 has been set for this year’s event.

“In our office we have five staff, versus many thousands of volunteers,” she said of the Modesto ACS office, which services a total of four counties. “We work really close with the volunteers to support them with what they do.”

Mike Sharp is one such volunteer, who splits his time between running his business at Hazard Waste Management Services, volunteer work with Community Hospice and serving as this year’s Event Chairperson for the Sundown Celebration. Sharp first became an ACS volunteer in 2009, when approached by a friend from Community Hospice.

“One of the great things about the American Cancer Society,” Sharp said, “is there are a lot of people that really want to help.”

Case in point, Sharp stated that in 2009 he was the event Logistics Chair. Recognizing the scope of the job as far from a one-man show, he sent out an e-mail to friends and family soliciting help.

“People just showed up,” he said of the response.

Sharp described the Gala event as an adult carnival of sorts. The ‘midway’ is an event standard and features games such as a ping pong toss, basketball hoop, Putt Putt golf and a few Wii favorites for attendees to try their skills at. Prizes are awarded at each of the game stations. Photo opportunities will also be available, compliments of Eric and Kellee Ortega.

Supporting Sharp at the festivities will be his parents, Jim and Bobbi Sharp.

Jim Sharp was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003. He and his wife Bobbi have maintained an active role in the International support group Us TOO, since his initial diagnosis.

This year the elder Sharp will also be a guest speaker at the Sundown Celebration.

“I think it’s important to share,” Jim said of speaking on the topic.

The couple shared the pride they felt for their son’s dedication to ACS, as well as hospice.

“We wonder how he has the time to do it,” Jim said.

“Mike has always been successful when he is busy,” Bobbi added. “We’re proud of him. I’m very proud of him. It makes me happy to see him so involved.”

“You do it because it’s a good cause,” the event chair said of his volunteer efforts. “You do it because you have had family who has suffered through it. You do it because you feel good about doing it.”

Julie DeHart, AVP Training and Development for Oak Valley Community Bank, also feels good about being an ACS volunteer. DeHart began her journey as a volunteer in 2002.

“My best friend was a volunteer for Gala and asked if I wanted to help,” DeHart said.

She also shared that her younger brother, Jared DeHart, passed away from leukemia at the age of 10.

“That basically affected the whole structure of our family,” she said, noting that her brother was the first person she knew to have cancer.

In February of 2008 at the age of 34, DeHart herself was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Following three months of what she describes as flu like symptoms, night sweats, shortness of breath and severe exhaustion, she found herself in the emergency room of Memorial Hospital.

During her three-month journey of symptoms, the survivor described much of the frustration she felt.

“I was at the doctor’s office eight different times between December and February,” DeHart said. “When the night sweats went to a fever I went to the ER.”

During her ER visit the doctors performed tests that revealed a mass in her chest. A liter of fluid was removed from one of her lungs.

The volunteer and cancer survivor still recalls her primary care physician visiting her in the hospital and sharing that they felt it was lymphoma.

As a 34-year-old single mother of a teenage girl, DeHart admits she panicked.

“I did not understand what lymphoma was,” she said. “I spent the first 24 hours thinking it was a death sentence.”

The following day, however, she asked the questions and received the answers she needed to bring her comfort.

“I knew that night I was going to beat it,” she said.

Aside from facing her treatment plan, DeHart shared she also felt a sense of relief upon hearing her diagnosis.

“I felt relieved,” she said.

“When I was first told of the mass, my first thought was Thank God,” DeHart said of hearing her cancer diagnosis and learning they had pinpointed the problem. “Honestly it was ‘Thank God’ and then ‘Wait a minute, I have cancer’.”

Prior to her diagnosis, she said, “I felt like the doctors were treating me like I was crazy. I actually switched doctors during the process. I even told one doctor that my biggest fear was that there was a monster growing inside of me and they weren’t catching it.

“I actually said those words.”

As she started chemo, her hair began falling out quickly. Staying in control of the situation, she had her hairdresser give her a buzz cut almost immediately.

DeHart also admits to feeling a bit self-conscious prior to wearing her wig.

“I forewarned the girls (co-workers) the day before,” she said, of wearing the wig. “But the customers did not even know.”

“I was fortunate with my treatment,” she added. “I was able to do everything locally, which did not cause any financial strain. But ACS helped me with my wig.”

DeHart shared that while the financial support is a plus for patients, it is the relationships she has formed as a volunteer, which have brought her the most comfort.

“It’s amazing to me that we can’t find a cure,” she said. “But it makes sense to me because there is not just one strand that leads to cancer. But knowing that the dollars we raise are actually helping someone in the same position I was in, that’s rewarding. I know first hand that those dollars are available to help someone.”

To date the Sundown Celebration Gala has raised over $1.2 million toward the fight against cancer. For tickets and additional information about the 2010 event, call the Modesto ACS office at 524-7241 or Event Chair Mike Sharp at 551-2000. For information on the American Cancer Society visit