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Relay Comes In At $200,000
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Retiring Oakdale High School Principal Rick Jones, wearing the purple shirt of a cancer survivor, is applauded as he makes his way toward the stage at the eighth annual Relay for Life in Oakdale. He was thanked for his efforts and dedication in helping the Relay be hosted at the high school each year and for being an inspiration to other survivors. - photo by MARG JACKSON
Tough economic conditions notwithstanding, Oakdale and the surrounding communities came though once again when it counted, raising $200,000 in the fight against cancer in the eighth annual Oakdale Relay for Life.
Along the way there were tears, laughter, friendships renewed, victories celebrated and poignant moments when those who lost the fight to cancer were remembered. (See related story.)
Coming in with one financial goal, the teams participating in this year’s event learned at Saturday morning’s opening ceremonies that the goal had been re-set, with $150,000 the new target. That total was surpassed by the more than 50 teams participating, accounting for an estimated 1,000 people that circled a track on the old baseball field at Oakdale High for the 24-hour period.
“You are here to show that we won’t stop until there’s a cure for cancer,” co-chair Dawn Jerkins told the crowd as they got ready to begin the event.
A cancer survivor herself, Jerkins will take the reins and lead the charge next year. She was one of the three cancer survivors that carried the Relay for Life banner around the track on the opening Survivor Lap, signaling the start of this year’s Relay for Life.
“One person can make a difference,” Jerkins said.
Another survivor helping carry the banner also took the microphone for opening ceremonies, as Marilyn Boatright gave a message of hope.
She said though she will never forget hearing those words — “You’ve got cancer” — and the fear it filled her with, she said that her experience in going through treatment opened up a new world, one filled with dear friends and the ability to not take anything for granted.
“I cherish every moment with my family,” she said.
One of those friends she made, Debra Baird, proudly carried the Relay banner alongside her on Saturday.
Having dealt with cancer previously, losing her father to lung cancer some 20 years ago and her husband in 1998, she said she was familiar with the American Cancer Society and knew how to get information. It proved to be an invaluable resource as she sought answers to her questions. She also said her faith helped carry her through and she remains an active participant in Relay.
The day also saw young Shayann Trent, 9, donate her hair so a young child going through cancer treatment cancer can have a wig made of it. She donated the hair in honor of her grandfather, who battled the disease.
Oakdale Martial Arts provided a demonstration, there was musical entertainment by Oakdale resident Don Glor, an evening concert by Howard Kendig and Co., lots of games and special events, theme laps to keep the walkers entertained and a new ‘Dancing With a Survivor’ time at the main stage, where audience members took the stage with their survivors and danced to applause from the crowd.
The oldest and youngest survivor in attendance were recognized, there were many activities at the Celebration Tent specifically for survivors and their caregivers, including bingo, dinner and giveaways.
The evening brought the luminaria ceremony with guest speaker Jonyce O’Neill of The Learning Tree, who told the crowd about the experiences being caregiver and friend for Joyce Cuslidge, a Learning Tree teacher who battled pancreatic cancer.
“Joyce was many things to many people,” O’Neill said. “Joyce touched the lives of many … she knew everybody.”
Describing the battle with pancreatic cancer, O’Neill said it was a “crazy, emotional ride” and added that the caregiver’s job is “like being someone’s mom.”
You serve as the driver, getting them to appointments; you serve as the spokesperson, asking medical professionals all the questions that need to be asked.
“I thank God there were other people,” O’Neill said of having help along the way. “I could not do this alone.”
Though Joyce lost her battle, she was true to her teacher roots until the end.
Lessons learned, said O’Neill, had to be taken to heart.
“Don’t pass opportunities by to spend time with your family, your kids. Housework can wait. Bills can wait,” she said of seizing the moment, whether it was for an impromptu trip to the beach or just to enjoy someone’s company a little bit longer.
“Joyce was a fighter, she didn’t give up,” summarized O’Neill. “Joyce is truly my hero.”
The crowd gathered for the ceremony then watched an I-movie featuring photos of cancer victims and those that have won the battle, alternately cheering or sharing a tear. The luminaria bags were lit on the track and provided a path for the walkers throughout the overnight hours.
Teams staffed their booths day and night, offering a variety of goods, merchandise, games and food. Walkers took turns on the track for the entire period, symbolic of the fact that cancer doesn’t sleep.
Oakdale, Escalon, Knights Ferry, Valley Home, Waterford, Riverbank … all areas were represented by team members and the collective work of the group raised more than $200,000 for the fight against cancer.
And whether it was karaoke at midnight or a newspaper fashion show at 1:30 a.m., there was plenty to keep people busy from start to finish. Many local businesses helped the walkers by bringing in food at all hours of the day and night and the Lions Club once again served breakfast both Saturday and Sunday morning, free to all participants.
When the final totals were announced at closing ceremonies on Sunday — just before the Survivors once again led the way, this time in the closing lap — chairperson Jeff Hood congratulated those who helped Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back.
“You have shown us your hope, you have shown this community your hope and you have shown our survivors hope,” he said in relating the $200,000 figure to the applause from the crowd.
Top fundraising team, both overall and in terms of onsite fundraising, was the Coaches for a Cure team that was formed last year in support of coach Mark Dickens. He passed away on April 17, just eight days before Relay this year but the team returned to take part, this time in his memory.
“Oakdale has done an amazing job once again,” Jerkins gratefully told the crowd. “It is an honor to be a part of this community.”