While many American Cancer Society Relay For Life events are cutting down their hours – opting for shorter 12- or 18-hour versions, the Relay For Life of Oakdale stayed strong for 24 hours this past weekend.
This year, the 15th for Oakdale, saw the event reach its $75,000 fundraising goal – in fact, surpass it by a few hundred dollars – and brought together cancer survivors, caregivers, family, friends and community members in a 24-hour fight against the disease.
Hosted on the campus of Oakdale High School, the 25 teams set up shop around the area encompassing the JV and varsity soccer fields, with a Survivor tent located next to the Wood Avenue gate, a main stage in the center of the festivities and the big M*A*S*H team tent and health area anchoring the other side.
Friday’s light rain was cause for a little concern, but teams setting up early Saturday morning found the day to be bright and clear, with a crisp breeze. The sun was out, a few clouds moved in but there was no inclement weather during the day. In fact, conditions were just about perfect for the several hundred that made their way around the track throughout the day or worked at their team booths, selling items to raise money in the fight.
Opening Ceremonies included the presentation of the Patient Courage Award to cancer survivor Sandra Whiteman, also a team captain, remarks from longtime Relay participant and past chair Jeff Hood and the release of doves by a trio of cancer survivors, Louise Leverett, Whiteman and Kimberly Ann Hemingway. All were on hand for the full Relay event, working at their team booths and taking their turn on the track. All were team captains as well.
Along the way, the popular Ms. Relay contest returned, a special performance by Lisa Mercer from Ceres inspired the crowd in the late afternoon and there were also many different theme laps for teams to take part in by dressing up or utilizing props. Musical chairs and karaoke at the main stage also drew plenty of participants.
A balloon release on Saturday evening was followed by the luminaria ceremony and the placing of the lighted luminaria bags along the track. Bagpipe player Phil McGill led the attendees in a lap around the track following a video, and the bags, with flameless candles and glow sticks providing the illumination, lit the way for walkers during the night.
Oakdale Lions Club was there to provide breakfast – free of charge – to participants both days and donated the tips they received back to Relay to help with the bottom line. Café Bliss came in early Sunday morning – about 1 a.m. – with their signature soups to treat overnight walkers. Closing ceremony speaker Lisa Vorse, the lead volunteer for the Central Valley area, updated the crowd on what the money they raise through Relay For Life helps to do.
“You have funded 47 Nobel prize-wining researchers,” she told attendees on Sunday morning.
Of each dollar raised and donated to the American Cancer Society, 72 cents goes to research and patient services, 22 cents goes to put on events such as Relay, Making Strides walk and the ACS Gala, while just 6 cents of every dollar goes to overhead and administrative costs to run the American Cancer Society.
Vorse said money raised by Relayers have touched her family recently, as her brother had a cancerous mass removed from his abdomen earlier this year. One chemo pill – instead of weeks of chemotherapy – was part of his follow up treatment. Relay money helped fund the research that provided that breakthrough chemo pill.
“You’re creating hope, you’re creating miracles,” Vorse said. “You touch lives of people you will never know … 500 people come home, every day, because of you.”