Tuesday, September 12, 2006We Made The Paper!!
RELAY FOR LIFE
Cancer survivors, families, friends join in 24-hour fund-raiser at Maria Carrillo High School
By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Laurianne Koning had a baby and advanced lung cancer when, on the eve of last year's American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fund-raiser, she was rushed to the hospital.
Still, the 25-year-old Santa Rosa woman somehow made it to the event and immediately began anticipating this year's relay.
It was to be an unfulfilled dream. She died Oct. 22.
Instead, Saturday's event was dedicated to her memory and led off by her family: her parents, their 1-year-old grandson, Calem, her brother, and her sister and brother-in-law from Indianapolis.
Also present were Koning's grandmother, an aunt and uncle, several nurses and the obstetrician who delivered Calem two days before his mother's cancer was diagnosed.
"Everybody wants to find a cure," Koning's mother, Josie Koning, said simply.
The 24-hour relay at Maria Carrillo High School - the region's largest - was one of eight similar events scheduled this year in Sonoma County. The six previous events raised $1.1 million, said Alison Urmson, a cancer society spokeswoman.
The relays work by having those who do the walking line up sponsors to pledge money for their participation. The final Sonoma County relay of the year will be held next weekend in Petaluma, By then, 7,000 people will have taken part, Urmson said.
"It's the biggest fund-raising event in the world," Urmson said. "And we are the second largest contributor, other than the federal government, to cancer research" in the United States.
Events in 4,350 U.S. communities last year generated $351 million for research, advocacy and patient services. In California, 255 relays generated $28 million.
Santa Rosa organizers said they expected 1,000 people just at Maria Carrillo, where 85 teams were registered to participate, each with enough people to have at least one person on the track throughout the 24 hours.
Despite its scale, the Relay for Life experience is an extremely personal and moving one for participants, each inspired by reasons both unique and universal.
"You feel so powerless against this disease, and I think when you feel like you can do something, you do it," said Pat Hall. She was a member of Judy's Team, honoring Judy Palinkas, an occupational hand therapist who died of lung cancer and, like Koning, was a nonsmoker. "It's very empowering."
Koning's aunt, Angie Williams of Grass Valley, is fighting leukemia. "Everybody's been affected by cancer in some way," she said. "You can't find anyone who doesn't know someone who's been affected."
Like the other relays, the Maria Carrillo event was organized around a kind of tent city, where teams set up camps for those scheduled to stay overnight.
Around the track, many teams erected elaborate information tables addressing specific types of a cancer or booths selling everything from leis to lemonade, all for the cause.
Friends and colleagues on Judy's Team decided at Palinkas' memorial service that they had to do something to honor her. They laid out a garden plot with dozens of flowers, statuary, a bird bath and other ornaments to which they planned to have people add, "so it's ever changing and growing, like a real garden would."
At the nearby "jail" set up by members of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department team, people incarcerated at the whim of anyone willing to pay for the privilege had to choose between doing their time or paying to get out.
At dusk, the track was to be lined with 5,000 luminaria, each a tribute to someone who has battled cancer.
Diana Bowland, a cancer survivor of 23 years, said there's nothing like seeing those lights around the track to make her feel warmly supported and extraordinarily lucky to be alive. But it's the strides in diagnosis and treatment since that bring her back each year, she said.
"I'm doing it for the next generation," said Coleen Gervant, who won her first bout with breast cancer a decade ago but recently was diagnosed with recurring, stage 4 cancer. "But also, it's been such a great thing to do while going through treatment. It's something positive. I feel like I'm fighting at some other level."
Posted by Lynda (Laurianne's Sister) :: 9:39 PM :: 3 people are more aware ---------------------------------------