According to a 2008 survey from the American Cancer Society and Harris Interactive, more than three-quarters of Americans "have either a family member or close friend who has been diagnosed with cancer" at some point in their lives. In Pleasanton, many of those touched in one way or the other will be gathering at Pleasanton Middle School for the fourth annual Relay for Life, which unfolds over the 24 hours from 9 a.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday, July 25-26.
Relay for Life is an American Cancer Society event designed to raise money for research, education, advocacy, and service. Beyond its important financial mission, it also provides a forum to collectively acknowledge the personal dimension of the disease, bringing community members together (more than 3.5 million people nationwide) to honor cancer survivors and pay tribute to the lives lost.
In Pleasanton, the special day starts on the middle school track with the 9 a.m. Opening Ceremony. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman will deliver the opening remarks, with local student Madeline Aston singing the Star-Spangled Banner and the color guard from Boy Scout Troop # 941 leading the pledge of allegiance. Guest speaker Terry Healey, a cancer survivor from Alamo, then takes the podium to share his own personal story.
The relay itself kicks off as cancer survivors assemble on the track to walk the inaugural lap. "It's a moving moment," says Kathi Vermont, event chair and a paralegal at Randick O'Dea & Tooliatos, LLP. Subsequently, each of the dozens of participating fund-raising teams organizes its members to take turns walking laps to maintain a continuous presence on the track around the clock.
A succession of themed laps has been designed to keep the teams and their supporters busy and engaged. During the "fight back" lap, participants dedicate their walk to a personally selected mission statement, such as a pledge to quit smoking, always use sun screen, or advocate for cancer research. A new "caregivers' lap" honors those who have been of service to cancer patients, whether driving to doctors appointments or providing meals or household help. On the lighter side, laps with themes like "silly costume" and "bed-head" always bring out the smiles. Entertainment throughout the day ranges from martial arts and dance demonstrations to live bands and kids' camp activities.
The Luminaria Ceremony at dusk is another powerful observance. Each bag represents a life touched by cancer, and patient names are read one by one. This year, instead of sand, participants are being asked to weigh down their Luminaria bags with canned goods, which will be donated to a local food bank after the event.
Vermont is still recruiting teams for the relay, encouraging employee groups to challenge their neighbors and join the effort. Each team member is asked to raise at least $100, and participation now is more important than ever, Vermont points out. "The economy is not strong," she acknowledges, "but cancer doesn't know there's a recession." For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/pleasantonca .
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