Survivors celebrate at Relay for Life
Survivors, their caregivers, other family members and friends lined up beneath an archway made from purple and white balloons Friday night to begin the Relay for Life, an 18-hour celebration of the progress being made in the fight against cancer.
“Being here means everything to me,” said Tammy Richards, who battled cancer in 2008.
She wore a purple T-shirt that declared “survivor” on the front and “I AM HOPE” on the back. “When you have cancer, you fight for your life,” she said.
Richards, who also served as team captain for the Oakwood Relayers from Oakwood Country Place, was making her third appearance at the McMinnville Relay for Life.
The relay has been a local staple since 1995, when board members of the Yamhill County chapter of the American Cancer Society started the event at the McMinnville High School track. It was held at Linfield College, and on the Yamhill County Fairgrounds, before moving to Patton Middle School last year.
Each year, dozens of teams — there were 38 this year — set up campsites around the track. At least one member of each team was to be walking throughout the relay. Much of the time, team members walked in pairs or groups or joined people from other teams for a lap or two.
Many people started walking well before the relay officially began, passing signs with slogans such as “No matter who you are, we can help” and “Eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day for good health.” They also had a good view of the team booths, with names such as Team Committed, Karson’s Cranium Masters and Amity Rockstars/Go Big or Go Gnome.
Team Whatever It Takes And Then Some attracted attention by a huge red heart in front of its booth.
Most of the team members, employees at Life Care Center, wore bright red WITATS T-shirts. But one, Teresa Martinez, was wearing more formal attire — a full-length red dress covered with gold hearts, plus a gold crown on her head.
“This is a good way to support the community,” said Martinez, who said she was decked out as the Queen of Hearts. “It’s important to fight cancer.”
Together, 2013 relay participants raised more than $50,000 for the fight against cancer, co-chair Jami Fuller announced during opening ceremonies.
She introduced members of the relay organizing committee. A color guard from the Naval Sea Cadets marched with the flags, and Cindy Miller sang the National Anthem.
Fuller said the annual relay is a celebration. “We relay for the survivors,” she said, “so they can have another day, another birthday.”
In addition to walking, relay participants participated in all sorts of activities throughout the 18-hour event, from organized games to spontaneous dances and parties.
Music was playing and people were working aggressions out by bashing a car with a sledgehammer. Some were having fun playing games at a circus-themed booth set up by a team called the Busy Bees.
“The Relay theme was ‘Relay Big,’ so we thought of a carnival,” said Belinda Ogle, team captain, pointing out a sign that read “Taking it to the Big Top for the Cure.” The booth featured a ring toss, a duck pond and face painting, all for a small charge, with the money going toward the relay’s efforts.
The lighthearted theme belied a serious cause. “Participating in this is my gift to my mother,” Ogle said.
Her mom, Linda Ottele-Mosher, fought cancer twice, first when she was 21 and again 30 years later. Ottele-Mosher lost her second battle in 2006 when she was 53.
“Mom was a fighter all right,” Ogle said. “She had a good sense of humor and was a tough little cookie. She wouldn’t give up.”
A giant stuffed tiger decorated the Busy Bees booth. “Mom would have been that tiger,” Ogle said.
Dayton friends Janice Hutton and Debra Nissen attended the relay to celebrate their victories over cancer. Accompanying each woman was her number one supporter, Hutton’s husband, Clair, and Nissen’s husband, Dennis.
The women wore purple survivor shirts. The men wore green shirts labeled “caregiver.”
Hutton has been through two bouts of lung cancer, once when she was 59 and again almost 10 years later.
“Clair has been my everything through this,” she said. “He’s helped with everything.
“And he’s helped me emotionally. He’s told me to smile.”
Nissen, who had cancer surgery in January and February, voiced similar praise for her husband. “He’s been my rock,” she said.
Nissen is the director of the Dayton Community Food Bank and Hutton is a volunteer.
Both women said the people they’ve encountered in Dayton also have been very supportive in their fight against cancer. It’s important to feel that support, they said.
They make sure to reach out to others, too.
As she waited for the relay to start, Hutton clicked a set of knitting needles, forming stitches with purple yarn. “This is a hat for Debra’s sister,” she said. “She’s a cancer survivor, too.”
Hutton put down her needles just before 6 p.m. and she and Nissen lined up with other survivors for the celebratory first lap. Most walked, while some used canes or walkers and a few relied on wheelchairs. They included elementary school-age children, teens and adults of all ages.
As they walked, other relay participants stood beside the track, cheering them on.