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Finish The Fight
0430 RFL Game
Little sister Dakota Burford, 5, left doesnt appear too enthused about looking for the candy at the bottom of the whipped cream pile while big brother Wes, 7, is all set to go during a game at Oakdales Relay For Life on Saturday. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

Though a downpour, lightning and thunder dampened preparation efforts on Friday, the 13th annual Relay For Life of Oakdale went on undaunted over the weekend, hundreds of participants raising thousands of dollars in the fight against cancer.

With teams doing pre-event and on-site fundraising, more than $128,000 came in and that’s not even the final total, as some additional post-Relay events will bring more to the coffers before officials ‘close out’ the American Cancer Society’s 2014 Relay season.

For Oakdale residents, the 13th annual Relay For Life saw cancer survivors celebrated, loved ones lost remembered and mourned, and participants dedicating themselves to keeping up their educational and fundraising efforts. Theme for the year is ‘Finish The Fight’ and more than 600 participants helped do just that over the 24-hour period.

Young cancer survivor Isabella Mays offered a rendition of the National Anthem, Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul officially welcomed the crowd and Hero of Hope Ashley Maderr started the 24-hour event off with some words of wisdom, encouragement and hope; noting that she was successfully treated for a rare type of cancer and her grandmother – diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 – is a survivor. Sadly, her father passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2011 – the same year that Maderr was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“It turned my entire world upside down,” Maderr said of learning she had the disease, after having lived through the battles of two other family members.

But treatment, early detection and a strong support system made the difference.

“This July will be my third year cancer free,” she told the crowd, to cheers and applause. “For all the caregivers, you guys are amazing … please make sure to take care of yourself.”

She also said the success of events like Relay For Life, the advances in research and treatment; all are stepping stones in the battle.

“Your tears make us want to fight even harder,” she added. “To all the survivors, I am so happy to celebrate another birthday with you guys.”

After Maderr shared her story, the Relay started with the Survivor Lap, with those recently diagnosed lining up first, followed by survivors with multiple years of survivorship following. That list included longtime Relay participants Louise Leverett, Kerry Norwood and Kevin Brunk, all with 20-plus years of survivorship.

Norwood pushed her young grandson, six-month-old Trooper Griswold, around the track in celebration.

“Twenty years,” she said, incredulous. “I didn’t think I was going to get here, but I did.”

Leverett, another longtime survivor, was also a member of ‘The Grand Club’ this year, raising more than $1,000 individually for the Relay event. Matt Harris was the top fundraising individual, a member of the Ball Corporation Team who brought in more than $3,500. Top onsite fundraising team was Komonawanacure, with over $1,800.

The 24 hours also included plenty of entertainment, food, opportunity drawings, demonstrations by local dance and martial arts groups, music, special events especially for survivors, educational activities and more. Theme laps were hosted, the popular Ms. Relay contest returned and through it all, relayers joined each other in the fight.

Survivor Kevin Brunk and wife Cheryl, who spoke from the perspective of a caregiver, were keynote speakers for the evening luminaria ceremony, which also included attendees falling in for a silent lap around the lighted track behind bagpipe player Phil McGill following a video presentation featuring photos of cancer survivors and those that have lost the fight.

By Sunday morning, teams had been on the track for nearly 24 hours and closing ceremonies featured remarks from Oakdale High School junior Amee Neathery – who lost her mom in November of 2009 after a battle with lung cancer – and OHS senior Alyssa Perigen, whose brother Steve lost his fight against a type of bone cancer in December 2005. Both teens vowed to continue the fight, relaying in memory of their loved ones, refusing to let cancer win.

Receiving this year’s Patient Courage Award was Laura Van Cleave, who is a survivor of ovarian cancer and also served as a volunteer for this year’s Oakdale Relay.

Chairperson Andrea Fogleman and Team Development chair Deanna Medrano agreed that the fight isn’t over – and thanked Oakdale relayers for their commitment to the cause.

“We are motivated to do something, so no one else we know has to fight this disease,” said Fogleman.

“We do it together,” added Medrano, with all participants joining in for one final lap around the track.

And together, the Oakdale community raised over $128,900 to help finish the fight.