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Relay 2015 In The Books
As he has done for many years in Oakdale, Phil McGill once again brought his bagpipes to offer a haunting rendition of Amazing Grace while he walked the track, luminaria bags lighting his way. Marg Jackson/The Leader

What started out under gloomy skies and the threat of rain turned in to a mostly mild, though windy, Relay For Life of Oakdale. The 14th annual event, staged through the American Cancer Society, brought hundreds of people to the soccer fields at Oakdale High School on Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and 26.

The communitywide fight against cancer saw families, friends, church groups, school clubs, community service organizations, businesses and more join forces for the 24-hour event.

Along the way there was also plenty of music, educational speakers, performance troupes, special theme laps and fun activities. From the opening ceremonies with the Boy Scouts of Troop 43 presenting the colors and Oakdale High School student Emily Hudson singing the National Anthem to the closing lap that saw all participants share in the joy of accomplishment, Relay For Life was definitely a success.

Teams set up their campsites in a circle around the soccer field, covering portions of both the JV and varsity pitches, with additional tents offering room for cancer survivors to enjoy complimentary food and beverages, games, socializing and prize opportunities. A Relay store stocked plenty of Relay-themed materials and participating teams had everything from fruit and meat skewers to the chance to put someone in ‘jail’ for a small donation, gift basket chances to a full snack bar-style spread of comfort foods.

Speakers included Lynell Darby of the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program aimed at women going through cancer treatment to Road to Recovery representative Lenita Hoek, who urged residents to get involved by helping make sure cancer patients can always get to their treatments. Both women are cancer survivors; Darby got involved with Look Good Feel Better after going through her treatment; Hoek had already been a Road to Recovery driver when she got her diagnosis.

“I was known as the bald hairstylist,” Darby shared of losing her hair to treatment and learning how to cope with that.

ACS CAN, Cancer Action Network, advocate Cheryl Brunk also took a turn on stage and urged residents to not only join CAN but also to vote for a new cigarette tax. Oakdale, which has multiple CAN members, ended this year’s Relay For Life second only to Bakersfield in the amount of people signed up for the legislative advocacy program, putting Oakdale into Pacesetter status.

“Citizens of California, especially Oakdale, care about these things,” Brunk said of getting people to sign petitions in favor of the cigarette tax and join the Cancer Action Network.

As sunshine broke through the clouds in the early afternoon, Oakdale High School foreign exchange student Ylva Ostlin was busy at the campsite of team Faith, Trust and Cancer Free Dust, serving up cotton candy to a steady stream of customers.

“I really like it,” the Swedish exchange student said of Relay. “It’s fun.”

The popular Ms. Relay contest also returned, with this year’s winner – Amee – better known as Broderick Medrano, bringing in the most cash from a whirlwind tour around the track. In the pageant, teams send their ‘best cross dressed’ member to take the stage, answer questions and generally attempt to wow the audience.

Keynote speaker for the touching evening luminaria ceremony was Purnima Mahida, who spoke of her cancer journey, diagnosed five years ago with Stage 3 breast cancer. Though she is now cancer free, she admitted it took a few years to come to terms with her own personal battle and be able to share it with others. This year, she took the stage and offered words of comfort, courage and conviction.

“Sometimes life is like a shipwreck,” Mahida said of getting her cancer diagnosis. “Don’t forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

She also offered thanks for friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who she said played a critical role, not only in her initial battle, but in her recovery.

“A simple card, flowers … kept my spirit bright in the dark days,” she said.

Following her address, bagpipe player Phil McGill performed Amazing Grace as he twice wound his way around the track, lit up for the nigh by more than 1,000 luminaria bags.

The overnight hours brought such competitions as limbo, air band wars, an impromptu dance off a la ‘Footloose’ and the popular soup from Café Bliss at 1 a.m.

The closing ceremonies on Sunday morning also featured the announcement of multiple team and individual awards, as well as the presentation of this year’s Patient Courage Award. It was presented to cancer survivor Kimberly Hemingway, team captain of the MASH 4144 team out of Oak Valley Hospital District and a member of this year’s Team Ambassadors committee.

Some significant cancer survivor anniversaries marked this year at the event included Kevin Brunk’s 30 years of survivorship, Louise Leverett with 21 years and Sherri House marking her 10th year as a survivor. Relay Lead Andrea Fogelman also announced that the event, as of Sunday morning, had brought in an estimated $127,000 and will continue to collect money and host fundraisers on the way to a $135,000 goal.


Next week, look for a listing of the individual and team honors presented for 2015.