By Mary O’KEEFE
As the clouds finally parted mid-morning on Sunday, a group of wearier Crescenta Valley volunteers slowly carried their camping gear to their vehicles. Even though for 24 hours they had shared tears and laughter, stories of sadness and triumph, and braved an early morning rainstorm all had a smile for one another.
The volunteers had been part of the Foothills Relay for Life that began at 9 a.m. on Saturday and ended at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
Relay for Life is a fundraiser sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Each year community members from the Crescenta Valley area walk the 24-hour event to raise awareness and funds for cancer research and treatment. This year’s relay has brought in $86,400 and more is being donated. The goal is to reach $95,000.
The event was held at Clark Magnet High School’s lower field. Participants pitched their tents and set up lawn chairs on the grounds. This year there were 25 separate teams: each had a booth with information and fundraising opportunities.
At least one member of each team walked the track throughout the 24-hour event symbolizing the fact that cancer never stops and never sleeps.
“Our event is different than most,” said Chuck Boone.
Boone along with his wife Regan has been a longtime supporter and organizer with Foothills Relay For Life.
Boone said each year foothill organizers meet with representatives from the American Cancer Society to plan the relay event.
“We listen but we end up doing it the way we always have,” he said.
Anyone visiting from outside the area might find Foothills Relay for Life to be more like a large family reunion than a fundraiser. Volunteers from local elementary and high schools set up their booths along side local businesses and organizations.
“This really is a community event,” Regan said.
Stephanie Hosford was the guest speaker who opened the event on Saturday. She weaved a story of her battle with breast cancer and how she was diagnosed.
“I was told I had [breast cancer] then was told I was pregnant,” she said.
At that point the audience took one united breath. She told the audience of how she went from doctor to doctor, each telling her that she could not carry the baby to term and to have cancer treatment. But one doctor gave Hosford and her husband the diagnosis they were waiting to hear.
“I could get treatment and keep my baby,” she said.
She had a lumpectomy and then waited.
“I had to wait until my second trimester. Luckily my cancer was only stage one and it hadn’t gone into my lymph nodes, it hadn’t gone anywhere else,” she said. “I then went through four round of [chemotherapy] while I was pregnant.”
The technicians didn’t do anything special to protect the baby. They told her the treatment would not affect the fetus.
“I cannot describe to you how crazy it was going in [the treatment center]. I would sit there and see the [chemotherapy medication] going up, snaking through the line,” Hosford said.
Hosford had a healthy baby girl and the treatment for her breast cancer was successful.
That story was just one of many of those walking around the track wearing purple shirts, indicating they were cancer survivors.
At 9 p.m. on Saturday, the traditional luminaria was held. Before the candles were lit, the Boones were inducted into the Relay for Life Hall of Fame. Their son CJ surprised them with the announcement. Eight years ago CJ participated in Relay for Life as a survivor. He had just had his leg amputated and his future was uncertain.
“He told us regardless of whether I am here next year or not I want you to continue with the [event],” Regan said.
His inspiration is at the foundation of their dedication to the event.
The night turned solemn as Wendy Alane Smith sang, Girl Scouts handed participants candles and they were lit. A bagpiper led a precession around the track. The day was full of kids joking with each other, volunteers chatting and lots of eating but this one act of having a sea of candles appear to almost float around the track brought everyone back to the real purpose as to why they were there.
The overcast Saturday turned into a rainy night. Many participants discovered their tents were not as weatherproof as they thought.
Closing ceremonies had a bit of a twist. The Boones had announced that if they raised $3,000 by the end of the event they would both shave their heads. The money came in and CJ’s parents are now sporting a Sinead O’Connor look.
As everyone was packing up to leave Tim Anast from Re/Max Tri-City finished walking his 321st lap that is equivalent to about 50 miles. This is the fourth year Anast has walked the entire 24-hour relay.
Foothills Relay for Life would like to thank all the team captains, Glendale Management Association, J’s Maintenance, Bonner’s Rentals and the Allen Lund Company for their gold sponsorship level; the La Crescenta Der Wienerschnitzel, Burger King, Togo’s and Berolina Bakery for donating food for the volunteers; the Maluccio family and their friends who ran the food booth. And a special thank you to Paula Warner and Lori Carrico, the volunteer co-chairs of the event and Sonia Lopez, American Cancer Society representative.
“Everyone on the [Foothills Relay for Life] committee deserves a special thanks for their hard work,” said Chris Waldheim, a longtime event organizer.