Relay for Life highlights cancer survivors, victims

Relay for Life highlights cancer survivors, victims
Casey Garness, right, holds his 4-year-old daughter, Kirby, and his wife, Sondra, holds 2-year-old Casyn during the July 28 Relay for Life event at the San Dieguito Sports Complex. Casey Garness has raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society over the past 10 years. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — Not only is carnitas a delicious Mexican food, but it is also the name of the biggest Relay for Life event in San Diego County.

Organizers combined the efforts of Carlsbad and Encinitas two years ago to maximize support and attendance. Last year, the event raised $150,000 for the American Cancer Society’s research to cure the disease.

This year, however, was the largest attended event as 400 people on 40 teams participated in the 24-hour walkathon at the San Dieguito Sports Complex on July 28 and July 29. According to Keith McCormick, co-chair of the event, more than $152,000 was raised, although the total is expected to climb.

The event featured speakers, survivors, food, music and booths collecting donations, to name a few.

“We combined with Encinitas last summer,” McCormick said. “It’s been fun to partner with Encinitas. We’ve had a lot of real-world cancer stories. That’s why people get involved.”

More than 400 people participated Relay for Life event at the San Dieguito Sports Complex in Carlsbad on July 28-29. Photo by Steve Puterski

One survivor, Casey Garness, is also one of the biggest fundraisers. Over the past 10 years, he has raised more than $100,000, while his 4-year-old daughter got in on the act this year and raised more than $3,000 by selling painted ceramic pots.

Garness, 40, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia when he was 5. However, at first he was misdiagnosed and it nearly cost him his life. But his father happened to catch an episode of the “Phil Donahue Show” and the guest had the exact same symptoms.

A native of Minnesota, Garness’ parents took him to the famed Mayo Clinic, where doctors delivered the sobering diagnosis. He underwent chemotherapy, lost his hair and was told he might never have children.

“They took me to Mayo and they said if I would have taken the medicine they gave (me), it would counteract with what (I) have — that I could’ve died within two weeks,” Garness recalled. “Kindergarten was mostly in the hospital. I was fully cured when I was 12-13.”

Now, he and his wife, Sondra, have two bubbly daughters, Kirby, 4, and Casyn, 2. And Relay for Life is a way for Casey Garness and his family to pay it forward.

While he is a fundraising machine, Kirby has taken on her dad’s cause.

Casey Garness said his daughter wants to make a difference and she understands the impact cancer has on its victims and families, which is why she started her business.

Her father said any time his oldest daughter learns of someone being diagnosed, she becomes sad. As a way to help, she began painting planting pots and launched Kirby’s ‘Cottas.

She sets them upside down and pours a mixture of paint, which drips down to create colorful designs. And like other businesses, the family set up a Facebook page to promote her work.

“She asked how she could help with daddy raising money,” Garness said. “She picks the colors and ships across the country. She really understands the reason for all this. We talk a lot about it at home.”

As for last weekend’s event, McCormick said over the past 14 years, it has raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society. “Carnitas” raises the most money of the eight Relay for Life events in the county.

“It’s a disease that brings the community together,” he said. “Cancer knows no boundaries.”

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