Making strides toward a cure

The American Cancer Society says “cancer never sleeps,” and for 24 hours, neither did the participants of Relay for Life.

Approximately 1,700 participants took part in the American Cancer
Society’s 24-hour relay-style marathon and fundraiser Saturday at
Toomey Field, organized by the UC Davis Colleges Against Cancer chapter.

By press time, Relay for Life had raised at least $123,685 for the ACS
for cancer research and advocacy, though Ashley Stark, Relay for Life
co-chair, anticipates the number will be higher after final counts have
been made.

UC Davis’ Relay for Life has been the top college relay in California for three years, Stark said.

The American Cancer Society says “cancer never sleeps,” and for 24 hours, neither did the participants of Relay for Life.

Approximately 1,700 participants took part in the American Cancer Society’s 24-hour relay-style marathon and fundraiser Saturday at Toomey Field, organized by the UC Davis Colleges Against Cancer chapter.

By press time, Relay for Life had raised at least $123,685 for the ACS for cancer research and advocacy, though Ashley Stark, Relay for Life co-chair, anticipates the number will be higher after final counts have been made.

UC Davis’ Relay for Life has been the top college relay in California for three years, Stark said.

“We’ve basically set the standard for many other colleges. The UC Davis community has done an amazing job in fundraising,” she said.

Teams are composed of eight to 15 members, with at least one member on the track at all times from 10 a.m. Saturday through 10 a.m. Sunday.

Dozens of tents were put up on the grass; some participants played board games or threw around a football while waiting for their turns to walk. Live entertainment, music and food were also part of the event.

“There are a lot of opportunities to have fun out here. It’s not just walking around a track for 24 hours,” said participant Christian Commander, a junior animal biology major.

Commander, who belonged to the Bonner Leader’s team, a UCD community service organization, said he is participating in Relay for Life to honor his grandmother and sister, who are both cancer survivors.

“It’s a great way to raise awareness,” he said. “I think what’s great about Relay is that [the organizers] really get the survivors involved.”

“What makes Relay for Life at UCD different from other city relays is that it really brings the campus together,” said Kristen Lohse, a junior psychology major and co-team captain coordinator for the race, as well as publicity co-chair for Colleges Against Cancer.

And with the logistics in place, the cancer survivors themselves take center stage.

“I want to keep the information out there, and to share the fact that people can recover,” said George Hinkle, a bladder cancer survivor and Davis resident. “You don’t have to curl up and die.”

At 86 years of age, Hinkle is going strong. Although he still gets treatment once a year, he said that for the last five to eight years, he’s been basically cancer-free.

Hinkle, who also tap-danced on the Relay for Life stage, has participated in 20 Relays. During one of his first relays, he walked one lap for every one of his then 78 years, approximately 20 miles. His motivation is to keep the research going.

Liz Creger, a cancer survivor and a sophomore English and international relations double major, credits recently developed treatments to her survival. She, too, wants to ensure that researchers have the means to continue to make strides in finding cures so others can be helped just as she was.

“[If I had been diagnosed] 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be alive,” she said.

Hailing from Mountain View, Calif., Creger was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a childhood bone cancer, at age 17. She met many other patients during her stay in the hospital, some who lost their battles with childhood cancers.

“A lot of childhood cancers haven’t been researched enough,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of children die.”

“The most important things to keep in mind are that you are never too young to get cancer, and that decisions you make now will affect your health for the rest of your life,” said Brett Fontaine, a junior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major who was diagnosed with myxoid sarcoma his senior year of high school. Fontaine, along with Creger, are survivorship co-chairs in Colleges Against Cancer.

Being a cancer survivor at a young age changes many things. Fontaine and fellow Relay participant Cassie Batter, a UC Davis 2007 alumna, said their experience changed their ways of thinking.

“It literally changed my entire life,” said Batter, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, who like Fontaine was diagnosed with cancer during her senior year of high school. “It made me grow up really fast, it changed my interests and it made my relationships with family and friends stronger,” she said.

Creger says cancer changed her outlook on life.

“I don’t freak out about the little things. I feel like I spend my time more wisely now,” she said.

But above of all, Relay for Life is about hope for the future.

“Part of the reason I’m doing it is that I went through so much,” Creger said. “I would never want anyone else to have to go through it.”

Creger emphasized that Relay for Life can make a difference by raising money that will save lives. Recalling the young cancer victims she met in the hospital, Creger said she hopes for additional treatment breakthroughs “so that more mothers will be able to see their children grow up.”

For more information about Colleges Against Cancer and the Relay for Life, go to ucdcac.org and relayforlife.org.

 

ANNA OPALKA can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com