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Relay Rallies Community
Cancer survivors take center stage as they lead the way through the arch, starting off the 24-hour Relay For Life event in Oakdale on Saturday morning. Caregivers followed, then members of the participating teams. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Leader

Everywhere you turned, there were stories of hope. Stories of triumph. And unfortunately, occasionally, the stories of loss.

Regardless of the story, the 900-plus participants, representing close to five dozen teams, gathered for a common battle this weekend in Oakdale, the fight against cancer. They raised over $160,000 – and have until the end of August to work toward a $200,000 goal – and along the way, celebrated survivors, remembered those lost, and laughed and cried together.

Relay For Life touched down at the Oakdale High School soccer fields Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29, bringing the community together in a united front. For a 24-hour period, team members walked the track around the booths, purchased items from teams, took chances on opportunity baskets, enjoyed entertainment, participated in special theme laps and did their part to work toward a cure.

There were also many special speakers, from Jill Clayton offering thoughts from the perspective of a caregiver, helping her daughter Emily through cancer treatments, to the tandem of Kevin and Cheryl Brunk sharing their story of Kevin’s own 25-plus year survival after diagnosis.

Survivors and caregivers were treated to a variety of activities, food and fun in a separate tent area, bands performed for the crowd, the evening luminaria ceremony featured special music and the traditional bagpipe playing in addition to a slide show.

There was an opportunity to ‘fight back’ by learning more about the disease and steps people can take to lessen their own risk, while relay participants signed messages of hope on a banner to show support. A midafternoon balloon release saw purple and white balloons wafting into the sky and walkers stayed on the track at all times, with representatives from teams keeping the pledge to have a team member walking to symbolize that cancer never sleeps.

From individual fundraising efforts that topped out in the thousands of dollars to the walkers that brought in their $100 to help the cause, the ‘day of’ brought in around $33,000 to add to the $127,000-plus that was brought in prior to the event. Top youth team was Oakdale Coaches and Athletes For a Cure, raising over $8,400 and the top overall team was Antinetti’s All Stars, with more than $13,000 raised.

Fair Oaks Student Council, a team consisting of several grade school students and administrative/teacher/parent chaperones, was chosen for the ‘Cherished Choice Award’ for being involved and contributing to the success of the event.
Chairperson for this year was Heather Murray, who thanked participants for their efforts and said everyone has been touched in some way by the disease, whether they have lost a loved one or seen someone fight through the disease.

Local businesses provided sponsorships and several teams featured multiple youth members, helping insure the strength of Relay in the years to come.

Sunday morning, an emotional Stevie Cordoza – who attended her first Oakdale Relay For Life as a second grader – presented the Patient Courage award to Emily Clayton, who has been cancer free since April 1 of this year and will graduate with the Class of 2012 at OHS, as will Cordoza.

“Battling cancer and an ‘A’ in calculus?” Cordoza said as she introduced Clayton. “How is that even possible?”
The two have been part of Oakdale’s Relay For Life since it began … this year, Cordoza was chairperson of the Survivor Committee and Clayton attended, wearing a purple shirt and walking in the Survivor Lap.

“Between cancer and Emily, I’d say it’s safe to say that Emily won by a long shot,” Cordoza said.