An eighth of a mile at a time, people took steps against cancer July 21-22.
Twenty-seven teams kept the pace for 24 hours at Hood River County Fairgrounds in the 16th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life fundraiser.
“I want to thank you all so much for doing this,” said keynote speaker Terry Joyer, a 14-year breast cancer survivor, and longtime Relay committee member. She told of the painful family odyssey of cancer: hers, her father’s, her mother’s and her daughter’s.
Her words seemed attuned to people who were either experiencing cancer or Relay fatigue.
“Please don’t give up. So many of us come out and we say, ‘We’re not going to do this,’ and here we are again. So please come out and keep doing what you’re doing — sharing and giving back — and hopefully you’ll never ever have to hear those words; but if you do, there’s hope because of all of us.”
Relay combines a social gathering, fitness experience, some fun and games, a plethora of prizes, barbecue and cold drinks, and plenty of conversation and connecting. The more solemn aspects of Relay include the keynote (more below from Terry Joyer), the Survivor Walk and the nighttime luminaria ceremony, in which decorated paper bags are set out, each in honor of a loved one or survivor.
“All in all it was a great event, great entertainment and participation, really nice people, and it went well,” said co-chair Lorrie Wingerd.
At the close of Relay, the event had brought in $68,000, but each year there is always money that comes in after the event. The final turn-in date is Aug. 31 and “typically we bring in another $5,000 to $10,000 from people who haven’t turned in what they received yet,” said Wingerd, who co-chairs with Kathie Alley. “The weather was perfect for the event. It wasn’t too hot; just about perfect,” she said.
This was Relay’s third year at the fairgrounds, where the circuit is on grass instead of the asphalt track that many were used to at the original venue, Hood River Valley High School. As a walking surface, it is more difficult for some participants.
“While it all went really well, the track is an issue for some people,“ Wingerd said. “We really are contemplating what to do next year. Going back to the high school certainly is an option.”
The HRVHS team Fight Club won spirit award; teams Pink Link and Diana’s Darlings won best banner wards, and One Step At A Time won best tent site. Steve Noteboom took Mr. Relay honors. Wingerd expressed thanks to the Reeves family and Deano Productions for the pulled-pork sandwiches.
Wingerd told the assembled participants Saturday, “It is amazing to come back year after year and see new faces and all the familiar faces.
“It says something about this community and how they like to give back. It empowers people in the fight and makes us all feel like we contribute something. Bottom line is, thank you all for being here, without you we wouldn’t have Relay.”
The ardors of cancer were all clear factors in the lives of many people interviewed July 21 as Relay got going. Some were in treatment and recovery or had family or friends who have the disease and many were grieving for those who have died.
Here are excerpts of Joyer’s impassioned keynote speech July 21, followed by other people’s tales of survival or personal connections to cancer.
Terry Joyer, Hood River
“I am not up on the statistics. I don’t know the number of daily cancer diagnoses, but I do have a very long experience with cancer.
“I am a 14-year breast cancer survivor; when I was a little girl my father, whom I loved dearly, was diagnosed with leukemia and at age of 36 he died, and left my mom and five children, and from an early age cancer was a part of my life.
“In 1997 I found a lump in my left breast, and went to the doctor, did an mammogram, and it was benign. I said, ‘I beat this, no cancer.’ Shortly after that my first granddaughter was born and I was thrilled. My first granddaughter — life is good; couldn’t get better. In May 1998, I found another lump. I had decided it was going to be benign so why bother.
“My husband begged me to go in and have it checked, which I did. I went to the hospital, had a mammogram and got home and there was a message on the phone to come back ... went back did an ultrasound. Got back from that and there was a message to call my doctor first thing in the morning. I was scared to death and went in and sure enough on my 45th birthday I had surgery to remove cancer from my breast.
“While in treatment in Portland, I met a woman from Hood River who I was familiar with, and she told me about Relay for Life. When they told me I had cancer, my experience with cancer was my father’s — that he got cancer and he died.
“I was convinced that was what was going to happen to me. It didn’t matter for me that the doctors told me, ‘You got it early; you’re good.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going.’ But this woman told me ‘You need to come to Relay for Life; it’s an amazing program and the American Cancer Society can do a lot for you.’ At that time I had a lot of questions. I wasn’t sure what they were, but I was scared and I had a lot of questions.
“They sent someone to my home and they talked to me about what to expect before and after surgery, and that was really helpful to me. And that’s one of the things that our money goes for.”
In 2000 Joyer’s mother contracted ovarian cancer. She died in 2004.
“Losing your parents to cancer is devastating. When you’re a little girl and you lose your dad to cancer is really sad. Finding out that you yourself have cancer is really scary but then in 2009 for me I got the worst call of all, from my daughter, who was getting ready to come visit, from Denmark. She called and said ‘I just came from doctor and I have been diagnosed with cervical cancer.’ That was the worst. I had two beautiful granddaughters.
“I am happy to report that she is here and she’s fine. That’s what I want to say to all of you.
“I know there are times when I think I am too tired. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve been doing it for years. The track isn’t good ... it’s too hot ... I didn’t get the campsite I wanted (laughter).
“But because of all of you, I have a friend whose little boy was diagnosed with leukemia … and he’s fine. Because of the American Cancer Society and the work we do, people are finding things that help us to survive cancer, and hopefully someday they’ll find a cure.”
At with that, she introduced the crowd to “why I continue to relay”: her daughter, granddaughters Stella, Maya, Elona, Amara and Ash.
Susie Mears, Odell
“I’m a breast cancer survivor,” said pink-wigged Susie Mears.
“And I’m Nikki Minaj!” exclaims her daughter, Aurora 8, similarly dressed in pink hair and clothes. For that matter, Susie’s husband, Brian, had matching attire. (See photo, at right.)
“We’re here with Providence because it’s because of them I’m still here,” Susie said. “We’ve got six years of ongoing stuff and cancer has just been a part of it.
“I’ve had over 40 surgeries, including cancer — got all the surgeons and specialists scratching their heads and keep waiting for them to realize I’m not from this planet. But I’m here kicking.
On Relay day, she said she was feeling “good.”
“It’s good just seeing all the support and Providence is, like my family.”
“My mother (Alice Princehouse) died of cancer in 2007, and my brother Frank died of colon cancer in 2004.” Princehouse was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. “My numbers have been great since his diagnosis and chemotherapy. “Here I am five or six years out, hoping for 12 or 15.
“It does grab you by the ears and shake you, but I have a doctor, Gary Gingrich, who saved my life,” said Princehouse, 68. “I went up there, but not to get checked for cancer. I thought it was kidney stones. The doctor said, ‘Let’s run some tests’ and I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Well, we should run some other tests on you, at your age,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and darned if he didn’t find (the tumor). I was operated on shortly after that. There’s a lot of people I have to thank,” said Princehouse, pointing to his daughter, Kristi Meyer.
To Princehouse, Relay “means everything.
“When I first got into this thing, I’m like a lot of people. I didn’t know what this was all about. But Val and my daughter are up to this over their head,” he said, referring to his friend, Valerie Worth, who collected $1,500 as a member of their team, One Step At A Time.
Olga Sosa, Odell
Olga Sosa and her son, Rodrigo, 4, held hands as they walked.
“I’m a survivor from breast cancer. I see this (Relay) in the newspaper and I want to come to meet new people, survivors, too. I received the diagnosis last year, and ended my treatment and I’m a survivor. I’m very strong and happy to be survivor.”
Aug. 1 Hood River News: More Relay Stories