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Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - July 12, 2013

Journey to the finish line

Volunteers and donors gear up for Relay for Life

by Jenn Teitell

You may have noticed the proliferation of purple ribbons on trees and telephone poles lining Main Street. They were hung to promote the upcoming Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

The annual event, scheduled for July 27-28 at the Pleasanton Middle School track, is a time for volunteers, participants and donors to come together to support the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

"I think Relay for Life is like a night's getaway to have fun, meet new people that all have one thing in common -- they are all affected by cancer in one way or another -- and also to spread awareness to the people in our community," said cancer survivor Kaitlin Gallagher.

Gallagher, a recent Amador Valley High graduate, was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia in April 2010 but is now in remission. She participated as a team member in 2012, and this year she is taking on a new role as Survivor Chair.

Participants form teams that run and walk laps during the 24-hour event, camping together in the center of the track during their breaks. The goal is to have at least one team representative on the track at all times because "cancer never sleeps." To add fun to the relay, some laps are themed; the Hawaiian and crazy hat laps are two scheduled for this year.

Florine Johnston, a lead regional volunteer for the American Cancer Society, stressed the need for volunteers to help during the event as well as assist in setting up beforehand on Friday, July 26.

The fundraiser has a goal of raising $105,000, much of which is anticipated to come from donations during and shortly before the event. According to the Relay for Life website, 35 teams and 213 participants have raised close to $36,000 as of Monday morning. However, raising money is not the only goal of the relay; it is also to inspire survivors to fight back against cancer and to know that the community supports them.

"The biggest thing is for them to come out and participate and be a part of something bigger than the money," said Johnston.

Relay for Life will work closely with Valley Medical Oncology Consultants to raise money and promote awareness of cancer. The practice raised approximately $10,000 for last year's fundraiser, according to Executive Director Bob Anderson. VMOC hopes to reach this goal again, he said, mentioning fundraisers such as drawings and the sale of cupcakes in the building lobby. Anderson himself has been involved for several years in the American Cancer Society Action Network, a group that lobbies for legislation that will benefit the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Some local businesses are supporting the cause, too. On July 1, Eddie Papa's American Hangout held a fundraiser for the event, with 20% of the proceeds going toward Relay for Life.

"We actually do fundraisers for multiple causes, and we donate to multiple causes because we feel like we can, so why shouldn't we? We want to support people in the community because they support us," said General Manager Andrea Gerton, who added that the fundraiser had a high turnout.

Making the event a success is a community effort -- Mayor Jerry Thorne will speak at the Opening Ceremony, and most of the teams are local residents.

Kathy Lin, a senior at Amador Valley High School, is taking part in the fundraiser for a second year. Her team will likely raise around $1,500 mainly by selling See's Candy, she said, remarking on the success of the team's sales. Lin, like many participants, was inspired to join the cause because she had witnessed friends and family members struggling with cancer firsthand.

"It's very hard seeing close ones suffer both physically and emotionally at the hands of cancer, but it's also incredibly impelling to see them pull through and fight back," she said.

Lin also felt that being involved in Relay for Life was a meaningful and rewarding experience for young adults such as herself.

"I think that, a lot of times, high school students or youths in general are caught up in their own bubble of the world where everything is perfect or, if anything bad is out there, it won't affect them personally," she said. "It's great that high school students have the opportunity to be involved in causes like Relay for Life because it forces us to get out of that bubble and lets us make an impact in the lives of others."

Those interested in helping can visit www.relayforlife.org to sign up to participate or donate.

For those unable to attend Relay for Life but still wishing to help cancer-related causes, the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop, 1987 A Santa Rita Road, needs shoppers as well as volunteers; and the annual Bras for the Cause Breast Cancer Walk is held downtown every year on Mother's Day weekend.

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