Pleasanton Weekly

News - July 29, 2011

Relay for Life attracts hundreds in fight against cancer

24-hour walk fills Pleasanton Middle School campus

by Dena Behnam

The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life walkathon came to the Tri-Valley last weekend, uniting the community by celebrating lives of those who have fought cancer, remembering loved ones lost, and fighting back against a disease widely spread in the United States.

Participants, who raised money to further cancer research and prevention for the Tri-Valley community, formed teams and camped out at the track at Pleasanton Middle School, taking turns walking or running throughout the day. Lasting 24 hours, the relay represented the reality that cancer is ongoing and never sleeps.

It all started with Dr. Gordan Klatt in 1985.

"He's referred to as the 'godfather' of cancer," said Florine Johnston, event chairperson. Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Wash., ran and walked around a track for a period of 24 hours, raising money for the American Cancer Society.

"He is still alive, he still promotes the event, and since then it takes place in more than 5,200 communities world-wide," Johnston said.

An opening ceremony Saturday included speakers Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and a survivor's story. Next, all survivors were asked to kick off the event with the Survivor Lap, dedicated to those who are currently battling or have fought against cancer. Then came themed laps, allowing participants to dress up in fun clothing from Hawaiian attire to Little Miss Relay.

After the sun began to set, one of the most moving parts of the event took place as hundreds of decorative paper bags illuminated with candles, called Luminarias, were placed around the track to commemorate passed loved ones and those still fighting cancer. Luminaria Chairperson Rob Lajoie recalled joining the team and said he enjoys the "big party" to celebrate and commemorate passed loved ones.

"My grandfather and my aunt passed away from cancer and earlier this year a friend of mine for 30 years passed away from breast cancer," said Lajoie. "It's one of those things that affects us all in some way and so I got to that point in my life when I'd like to hopefully make a little difference volunteering on the committee."

With a goal of raising over $100,000 and a turnout of over a couple hundred, the event was a success.

"Relay's special because it's driven by a grassroots effort," said Bert Aquila, Logistics Chairperson for the Pleasanton and Livermore Relay events. "It's really up to our doctors and our people who are sick and the caregivers who are giving care to spread the word. We need help."

When the walkathon came to an end Sunday morning, team members, volunteers, board members, survivors and every participant walked away from the school track as a community battling this disease together.

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