The event helps survivors spread a message of hope, see old friends and meet new ones, said reception coordinator Portia Norwood.
“I’ve been doing this since 2002,” Norwood said, “when I did Relay (For Life) walking with Linda (Wilcox) for her dad, and the next year I was diagnosed. It’s been exciting and scary, but the most important thing, I’ve got Relay For Life.”
This year’s chair of the American Cancer Society walkathon, MariAnn Albrecht, said it’s important to raise awareness and bring together people who share a common goal.
“It shows others there are people like them out there with the same struggles,” Albrecht said. “Tonight, they share stories and meet each other. People think cancer, and they don’t know where to turn to talk to someone with the same cancer.”
Now in their 12th year, Tracy Relay For Life organizers hope to increase their fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society from last year’s total of $309,000 to $325,000. Albrecht hopes to have 125 teams participate at the 24-hour walk at Kimball High School that begins May 19.
“In Tracy, one in three people get cancer, which is why it is important to have the event each year,” Albrecht said. “Through ACS, over 300 birthdays are saved each day in the nation.”
During the reception, cancer survivor Michelle Perea told the gathering about her fight against cancer that began in 2007, when she was diagnosed on Halloween. She said by sharing their messages and telling their stories, survivors can give hope to others diagnosed with cancer.
“My mission and my hope is anything I say is testimony to survivors,” Perea said. “I was told I have no (survival) chance, and I’m still here.”
One of the reception’s highlights was the announcement of the nominees for this year’s survivor and caregiver of the year. This year’s winners were survivor Monica Diaz, and caregiver Francis Swenson. Organizers also announced two children as nominee winners: Sherley Villagomez as princess of the Relay and Ryder James as prince of the Relay.
After the formal presentation, survivors and their families mingled to talk to others who are also fighting to beat cancer.
“It’s important to get the stories out and let people know there is help out there,” one-year survivor Denise Cheeseman said, who attended the event with her friend Rita Veles, a 19-year survivor.
“This is the first time I’ve come to the reception,” Veles said. “I wanted to share my story and let people know they have a chance to live a long life. I’ve survived 20 years in November. It’s a scary trip, but one that I did.”
Veteran Relay For Life participant Luis George said he is an eight-year survivor and makes a point to attend all the Relay For Life events in Tracy.
“It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing,” he said. “Any event they put on for survivors is important.”
Relay For Life will begin May 19, a Saturday, at Kimball High School with a survivors lap at 10 a.m. Other highlights to the event include the luminaria ceremony on Saturday at 9 p.m., and the Fight Back ceremony at 9 a.m. Sunday.
For information: MariAnn Albrecht, 484-2552.