Hope carries Relay for Life

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2004

From the newly diagnosed to long-term survivors to caregivers and friends, there was something for everyone at the fifth annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life held at the Skyview High School track in Soldotna on Friday and Saturday.

The overnight event was designed to build community spirit, celebrate survivorship, honor those who have died and raise money for research and programs in the fight for a cure for cancer.

"Hope is the overall theme this year," said Corbi Aaronson, chair for this year's Relay for Life. "We hope that there will be more survivors, and we hope that there will be a cure."

Communities from coast to coast take part in the Relay for Life more than 4,200 communities, according to Larry Andrus, the regional vice president of ACS, who flew up from Tacoma, Wash., to speak at this year's event.

"It's getting huge," said Andrus.

According to his figures, by the end of the year, the relay event will have raised between $250 million and $300 million in the fight against cancer.

Last year's local relay raised $62,382 said Sylvia Andrus, publicity chair for Relay For Life. "Our goal this year is to make even more," she said.

Sylvia Andrus also spoke about how the money generated by the local relay will stay on the Kenai Peninsula.

"A lot of organizations raise money with the focus on the national headquarters, but with our Relay For Life, 60 to 70 percent of the money raised stays right here in the area. We get the benefits," she said.

This money provides funding for numerous local programs such as the Reach to Recovery, Look Better-Feel Better and the Wig Loan Closet.

There were 33 teams that took part in the relay, and survivors were easily identifiable from caregivers and others who came to show support by the blue shirts they wore that read "Cancer is limited. It cannot cripple love, nor shatter hope."

People walked past hundreds of "luminarias" candles inside of paper bags that surrounded the track and spelled out "hope for a cure" on the grass field within the track.

The luminarias carried names and sometimes pictures of those with cancer to honor them, or in some cases, to remember them if they died.

Connor Aaronson, an adolescent boy who was afflicted with a brain tumor at age 3, was one of the survivors in attendance. Much like last year, Connor demonstrated his exuberance for the relay by finishing the survivor's lap by more than half a lap ahead of the others.

Soldotna residents Sue Stein and Tommy Ellison also took part in the relay. Many may remember the two survivors from their search for stem cell donors in their battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma a cancer that begin's in the body's lymphatic (immune) system and begins producing abnormal cells that grow out of control.

Ellison both found a donor in the National Marrow Donor Registry and late last year underwent stem cell transplants. Sue Stein's stem cell dnor was her sister, who was a "perfect match." Now they're on the road to recovery.

"I'm doing very well. The doctors are amazed at how well I'm doing," said Stein.

She said the Relay For Life was an important event for her to attend.


A torch burns above walkers at dusk Saturday.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"I want everyone to know you can survive. Just because you have cancer, or just because you need a stem cell transplant, it doesn't mean your going to die. You can get through this and can get to the other side."

Stein also said she thought the theme of hope was very appropriate.

"I think the theme is awesome because without hope you don't stand a chance. Hope and a good support system are essential."

Ellison said he's still facing a few hurdles, but overall is doing well after his surgery.

"It's still a battle. My new immune system is battling my old immune system, and I still take 50 pills a day and have all the side effects from them to contend with, but my lymph nodes are going down, I feel better, and the doctors say I'm getting better."

Like Stein, Ellison said he felt it was important for him to take part in the relay.

"I know what some of these people have gone through, so I'll do anything I can to lend my support to this. It's kind of like returning a favor," he said.

Most of the people at the relay were there because cancer has affected them or someone in their lives, but there also were many who came to learn about what cancer patients have faced, how they have fought, and what they have learned about life in the process of becoming cancer survivors.

"I don't have cancer or know anyone close who does, but all these people do and I want to help and support them," said Amber Kenderdine of Kenai.

She added, "It gives them hope and shows that even strangers care about them. I can't think of a better way to spend the day."

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