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Here it is again. The time of the year, where at the paper we settle down from all the celebrations surrounding Rodeo Week and quickly recover as we prepare for Oakdale’s Annual Relay for Life.
This is the week when I would normally profile and list all the reasons each of you should show up for the American Cancer Society’s local event. Where I would remind you that this 24 hour fundraising event changes the lives of many through research, patient services and advocacy.
I would also give you fact and figures to motivate the community and call everyone to rally so we might achieve one more goal … as a community. This year, however, is different.
In the past eight years we have chronicled this event in multiple forums. We have shared stories of survivors, caregivers and services. We have printed columns, even letters about the events and how cancer has touched our lives personally. From the onset in this community the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event is one that has touched many, both here at the paper, as well as in the community.
The good news is in spite of tough economic times the event will still go on.
While the event committee has worked tirelessly for months, they are continuing to slay an ugly dragon by the name of Recession. Numbers are down for this year’s event. Fewer teams have rallied, sponsorship has been a bit tougher and fundraising has also been met by the dragon’s challenge.
As I see it, this group, (the RFL committee) is a great representation of our community. Like many of you, they believe in this town, they believe in our ability to show up and make a difference and they are committed to making a difference for so many in this community.
This, after all, is more than a fundraiser. It is also a celebration. It is a brief moment in time when people from Oakdale and surrounding communities gather to celebrate and honor all whom we love and admire who have fought this tireless battle.
No, not the battle of the ugly dragon known as Recession, but the battle of the even larger and scarier dragon named Cancer.
The thing about Recession is that history has shown us that eventually he will go away. And while his visit is not one many are celebrating, we know he has an end in sight. Cancer, however, is truly a beast unto itself.
The bad news is, Cancer somehow missed the news about all the trouble Recession has been causing the committee and this event and he is still showing up in many lives throughout this community. The words ‘you have cancer’ are still being said each hour to an unexpected person fighting mysterious symptoms or discovering a lump.
Just last week I reported on Oakdale native and local artist Debi Bonsack who just this year learned of her breast cancer.
Somehow, inevitably, each year less than a month before Relay we always seem to hear of a new community member who has had to face this diagnosis. As a person with a passion of seeing an end to this disease, each year the knowledge of yet another family living with those words takes my breath away. But as my breath leaves my body, it also seems to fan the flame in my belly on its way out, igniting the fire that motivates me to battle this dragon named Cancer.
As a small town we have put ourselves on the map for many things: Cowboys, chocolate and quality of life are just a few that immediately come to mind. In past years the same can be said for this event. Communities from throughout California have often asked the question, how do they raise so much money?
There is no question, Oakdale is a town filled with generous people. If times are good for them, they are good for everyone. We are a community filled with givers. Now faced with uncertain times, many have retreated, unsure now of what they can do, how they can help.
This year nationally Relay for Life will celebrate its 25th anniversary as an event. An event which was started by one man in Washington State seeking to raise money for research and bring awareness to cancer.
As we reflect back on where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, I cannot help but be haunted by the words of a dear friend. During a recent conversation on this year’s event she shared her deepest fear.
“I’m just afraid that day (Saturday, April 25) is going to come and my mom is going to step out onto the track and look around and say where did everybody go?” she said in an emotion-filled voice. “I’m still here; this is supposed to be my party.”
That is when it hit me. This event is about so much more than just money and fundraising. This event is about celebrating people like Dorothy, my girlfriend’s mom, and reminding her that we still care. We may not have the deep pockets to give, as we have in the past, but we can forego a coffee at a favorite coffee shop or even a movie night out with the family to make a difference in lives like hers and so many others.
This is not just her party, but a party for so many families throughout this community. Families like the Brunks, who come out each year, set up camp and celebrate that dad Kevin has beat cancer and is now watching his children leave their mark at the high school he once attended. Families like the Perigens, who lost their son at a young age to a cancer that came quickly and mercilessly, yet they continue to gather to honor him and remind us all to continue to fight this dragon. Or family and friends like that of Mark Dickens, who rallied last year to support him with his battle against cancer and celebrated him as he circled the track for the survivor lap … celebrating each step of that opening lap as we all do each year.
In the end the facts of this event are still the same. The location remains at Oakdale High School the last weekend of April, this year on the 25th and 26th. Opening ceremonies will be conducted Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and the purple shirts representing all of our beautiful survivors will take to the track to kick off the event at 9 a.m. Tears of joy, sorrow and pride are sure to be shed, smiles and laughter will once again be present and memories will once again be made.
The circumstances, however, this year are a bit different. With Recession trying to detour us from our battle with Cancer, let’s not worry for this moment about the money. Let’s maintain our focus and remember the survivors like Dorothy, a long time survivor or Debi, who’s just beginning her battle. Let’s make sure that survivors like them see our faces when they take that first lap. Let’s make sure they see our smiles, our hands clapping and our arms open as we embrace them.
This, after all, is a community event. It is about all of us, each and every one. It is not exclusive to the haves or the have nots, because like Cancer it is a non-discriminatory event. It ultimately touches everyone.
Teams will still be there, offering their wares in the name of fundraising. Dinner will still be served by volunteers promptly at 5 p.m. Luminarias will still be sold in the name of honoring and remembering, as well as lighting the track for the 8 p.m. ceremony.
And in the end, survivors, like my friend’s mom Dorothy, will be reminded that we have not forgotten them. That we do still honor them and faced by Recession or not, we will still fight for them and right alongside them.
For additional information on this year’s event, contact event chair Jeff Hood at 480-1695. For survivors interested in participating in the opening lap and receiving a complimentary purple shirt, contact Jamie Pooley at 848-4647. And for anyone interested in just taking a few laps and being on a team, contact any of us at the Oakdale Leader 847-3021, we’ll be sure and make room for you — our survivors are expecting you.

Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.