OCEANSIDE — A crowd of 500 supporters and cancer survivors gathered at the MiraCosta College track April 26, for a 24-hour relay to raise awareness and funds to prevent and cure cancer.
The opening ceremony for the American Cancer Society 24 Hour Relay For Life was filled with hope and inspiration.
Over 100 cancer survivors took to the main stage to introduce themselves, and share how long they have survived cancer. Survivors said it had been four months to 33 years since they defeated cancer.
Many also honored family members and friends who had succumb to the disease.
Then survivors walked the first lap around the track, before team members joined them.
Most participants shared a deep connection to the cause.
Justine Fry, of Oceanside, was diagnosed with cancer at age two and survived cancer at age 4. She is 28.
“I never got my hair back,” she said.
Fry has participated in 10 Relay For Life events. She said she is grateful to the American Cancer Society for her doctor’s involvement with the organization, and the children’s camps she participated in and later volunteered at as a councilor.
“They’ve done a lot for me,” Fry said.
Arthur Bartell, president of the Army and Navy Academy, in Carlsbad, is a 10-year cancer survivor and retired Army major general. He was diagnosed with cancer while serving active duty.
Bartell spent six months in radiation, chemotherapy, and recovery. Once his cancer was in remission he returned to active duty, before retiring and taking on his current job.
“The treatment was harsh,” Bartell said. “There was a terrific outcome. There are side effects, but it’s worth the journey.”
Bartell said he is a huge supporter of the American Cancer Society, and glad the event acknowledges caregivers. He said is grateful to his wife who was his primary caregiver.
“(Cancer) It’s a significant emotional event,” Bartell said. “I’m stronger because of it. My family is stronger because of it.”
The relay asks teams to have at least one member on the track continuously for 24 hours to reflect the reality that cancer does not sleep. Teams clock 10 miles or more during the 24-hour relay.
Each team develops a walk schedule, and sets up camp on the infield.
An event highlight is the evening luminaria ceremony. Candles are lit inside sandwich bags, which are decorated to honor someone who battled cancer. A speaker leads the ceremony and is accompanied by a bagpipe player.
“The whole track is illuminated with white paper bags,” Stacey Williams, specialist for Relay For Life, said. “It’s a very emotional lap.”
The relay ended April 27 with a pledge to fight cancer on a personal and community level.
This is the 14th annual Relay For Life held at MiraCosta College.
The relay is the main fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Over 5,000 Relay For Life events are held annually in the U.S.
Each Relay For Life is organized and run by volunteers as a grassroots effort.
The MiraCosta College Relay For Life raised approximately $100,000 this year, and brought the college to the $1 million mark in total fundraising since it began holding the event.
Funds support medical research, patient support and education, and early detection services.
This year also marks the 80th anniversary for the college, and 100th year for the American Cancer Society.