Relay for Life

‘We need each other to survive’

Emotion takes action.

That’s what fueled the 600 or more people who participated in last weekend’s Columbia Gorge Relay For Life, the annual fundraiser for American Cancer Society.

Forty teams from around the Mid-Columbia took to the Hood River Valley High School track in the 24-hour walk to raise money for cancer research.

The teams raised more than $101,000 Saturday and Sunday. The skies, and the mission, were clear.

Walkers included cancer survivors and family members, and many people who just wanted to spend an hour or so doing their part.

“It gives you an uplift,” said Bill Murray of Hood River, 72, who survived prostate cancer. “It feels like you have the presence of God right here. You get emotional to see all the people in Hood River who have survived and made it around another year.”

Relay For Life began with a moving testament by Tony White of Hood River, who has not only defeated kidney cancer but also lost a son, Kevin, 11 years ago. Kevin was six when he died, after many surgeries, and chemotherapy. Kevin had Neuroblastoma, and was given 18 months to live at age four-and-a-half.

With his daughter, Amy, holding her brother’s photo high, Tony fought back tears as he read his story. (See sidebar, B4)

“Thank you for what you are doing here today,” Tony said. “I also want to thank you for what you have done in the past. I believe great things will happen as a result of the work done here today. I hope you will get excited as we not only visualize a cure for cancer, but also as we believe that cancer is curable.”

White, Murray, and other survivors, some supported by friends or family, took an honorary lap at 6 p.m. A few shyly waved at the applause.

They were lead by Renee England, 14, of White Salmon, who has mylogenous leukemia and spent her eighth grade year in the oncology unit of Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital in Portland. She received a bone marrow transplant in February, from her brother, Mitchell.

“The way I see it, my parents gave me life, my brother saved my life, and God has blessed my life,” England said told the crowd.

“Researchers say there’s a 65 percent cure rate for acute mylogenous leukemia with a bone marrow transplant, but they don’t take into account faith in God, family, friends, and a great attitude. My brother, Mitchell, added everything up for me and came up with 100 percent,” England said.

“Each day is a gift from God, and we should treat it that way,” she said. “I’ve learned that we need each other to survive, whether we’re sick or not. There were days I wanted to give up, but my friends and my mom’s friends kept me going. Don’t ever lose hope; keep your dreams alive through the tough times.

“I’m a survivor, but in part, I owe my recovery to all the kids who didn’t survive and to their families,” England said. “I, with many others, was part of an international research study, and my brother is now registered in the international bone marrow bank.”

At the 10 p.m. luminary ceremony, volunteers read the names of the 350 people who died from cancer or continue to fight the disease. Violinists Irene Aiken and Catherine Dalbey played solemn music by lamplight as each name was read, and for another half-hour after the reading, as walkers paused at points around the track to read individual names printed on candle-lit luminaries.

In the ceremony, Pastor Steve Heinze referred to Galatians 6:2: “share each others’ troubles and problems and so obey our Lord’s command.”

Heinze added, “I’m sure you’ve been talking back and forth about the good things each of us has found in our friends and loved ones, and the testaments we can share. Don’t be hesitant to go to God and do not be hesitant to go to each other.”

The sixth annual relay also had some light-hearted elements.

Jan Epperson of Portland, a breast cancer survivor, did the Hokey-Pokey with 50 other people. Her son, Doug, lives in Hood River. Next to her, “elbow in, elbow out” was her grandson, Tyler Heinemann, 8, who had accompanied her to radiation treatments.

“We could go to the (Relay for Life) in Portland, but we come to Hood River because we have family here and also because it’s just so much more emotional, as a small town,” Jan said.

The hat contest was won by Diane Parrott of Team Wal-Mart, with Tammara Tippel of Team Skamania Lodge second. Parrott’s was a star-spangled topper, while Parrott decorated a lampshade with flowers from every artificial arrangement she could find in the house.

Accompanying the walkers was music, ranging from Big Band numbers from White Salmon Jazz Band to rock-and-roll by Blue Trick to lively Caribbean of Jamba Marimba. Hood River Fire Department and Juanita’s Tortillas served up a barbecue and a fajita bar, respectively.

Mini-golf games, line dancing lessons by Steve Hudson, and a slip-and-slide appealed to those in need of a diversions or relief from the 90-degree heat.

When the night shift came on, Hood River Valley High School cheerleaders provided hot chocolate and coffee drinks to sustain the sleepy.

Over night, things got calmer but nearly as many people walked — and even ran — at 2 a.m. as at noon.

“It’s a good, cool time to walk,” said Elizabeth Daniels of Team Mosier.

“The stars are out and it’s a lot quieter,” said Nancy Krzeszak, also of Team Mosier. Yet both women played Veggie Bingo — with each lap, earning fruit and vegetable markers in hopes of filling a row and win a prize (pencils, stickers, and, ironically, candy bars.)

“Twenty-one laps! I’d better get a bingo this time!” shouted Alex Evans, 14. The next lap did it for him.

“I came out with some friends,” Evans said. “I just wanted to run.”

Adding to the night’s quiet and quirk was the pajama contest, won by Bev Hodges of North Bonneville and Debbie Vaday of Hood River, Sheila Slagle of White Salmon and Nina Barone. Contestants included John Alley, Jerry Keith, Tony White, and Mike Wingert, who wore long-handled red underwear — garments that throughout the day had hung on a line at their Granny’s Gang tent.

All day and night, the walkers were surrounded by each other’s hopeful spirits, and numerous festive and tents. Best tent prizes went to Cascade Eye Center and Underwood Fruit Company.

Saturday morning, cardboard stars hung from vertical lines at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital’s booth. Team members Hank Adams and Pat Pettit untangled stars jumbled in the morning’s strong breeze.

“Even if we have to take them down, they’ll still shine in our hearts,” Pettit said.

The stars stayed buoyant for the rest of the relay.

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