|The Wealth of Health
Relay For Life: ‘Celebrate, remember and fight back’
The Rohnert Park-Cotati Relay For Life is a life-changing event about community celebrating the lives of people who have battled cancer and survived, remembering loved ones who have lost the battle, and thanking the caregivers who have helped them through this stressful process.
The event is based on teams of people who camp out overnight and take turns walking or running around a path for 24 hours from Saturday morning to Sunday morning. A representative from each team is on the track at all times because “cancer never sleeps.” The event celebrates cancer survivors’ “birthdays.” Birthdays begin from the date of the original cancer diagnosis. I am celebrating my seventh birthday by surviving colorectal cancer, discovered on May 15, 2005.
Come join in this joyful event. Sign up online or come sign up Saturday morning. The setting is beautiful on the west side of Sonoma Mountain Village on the old Agilent soccer field with green grass, tree lined camp grounds and a paved perimeter-walking path. The event begins with inspirational short speeches, followed by vibrant singing of the National Anthem, and then the walk begins with cancer survivors leading the way.
Two years ago, I had the honor of being a speaker at the event as a cancer survivor. I feel especially lucky to be a cancer survivor. This year, I have the privilege of presenting a $500 check from the Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati to the American Cancer Society. And also this year, the Rotary Club will be barbequing chicken for the event dinner.
A benefit concert from 1-5 p.m. during Relay For Life will be held at Sally Tomatoes in Sonoma Mountain Village. Come dance and enjoy music by bands The Rotten Tomatoes, Choppin’ Broccoli, and Counter Balance. Cost at the door is $5 and all proceeds go to The Relay For Life.
There are many touching stories, poems, and songs throughout Relay. Each year at the event, I meet so many wonderful people with their own challenging cancer stories. Many have positive survivor results, like mine. But others were not so lucky and had sad endings. Two years ago, a life story that stood out for me was that of Lisa Hebert. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Strongly, Lisa had organized “Team Hebert” to promote cancer awareness and she had wanted so much to be at the Rohnert Park-Cotati event, even though she was from Sebastopol. Sadly, she passed away the Tuesday before the event, but she wanted her team to participate anyway. Her husband, two daughters, her family and support group of friends gathered and camped in her memory and raised more money than any other team at the event that year.
Throughout the event there is great music, food, and activities. One of the highlights each year is the Luminaria ceremony. Luminaria bags are decorated to honor survivors and to remember lost love ones. Each bag is filled with a canned food item to raise the height of a candle in the bag lit and illuminated at dusk. After the event, the canned goods are donated to the NOAH food bank for distribution to Rohnert Park needy families. Two years ago, many bags were made in memory of Lisa Hebert. I always make a bag in honor of my cousin Steve Malkemus. Steve and I were the same age and grew up together. He was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 47 and died at 51. Steve was a wonderful man and I miss him.
At dark, thousands of Luminaria encompass the entire perimeter of the park. It is a beautiful, inspirational sight, walking the path and seeing all the names and color designs on the bags. Amazingly two years ago, a full moon was rising over the eastern mountains as the Luminaria glowed. A peacefully lit sign with the word HOPE shined just below the rising full moon…it was breathtaking!
Along with the Luminaria ceremony, the evening program includes testimonials, poems, songs, and a terrific celebration slide show on a big screen. The slide presentation is set to beautiful music and shows pictures of lost loved ones and honored survivors.
At 10 a.m. Sunday morning, the event closes with a Fight Back Ceremony and last lap. The goodwill and dedication of the participants, volunteers, donors and organizers is amazing.
The “no complaints, no regrets,” and “move on” attitude of the person with cancer is an admirable quality. Cancer prevention involves basically living a healthy life. But even living a perfectly healthy life is no guaranty of avoiding cancer. Awareness and funding of cancer is having an effect. The importance of early detection and screening for cancer and anti-smoking campaigns are leading the way. Cancer deaths in the United States and Sonoma County have fallen the last few years after years of steady increase. Combinations of factors are responsible for the cancer death decline, including an increase in early detection, more effective treatments due to continual research and a decrease in cigarette smoking among men. A wider and earlier screening for colon, prostate and breast cancer among both men and women is particularly significant.
Relay For Life is an awesome, uplifting experience. I recommend the program to everyone, particularly if you, your loved ones, or close friends have experienced cancer.
Enjoy life and keep smiling.
George Malkemus has had a family and cosmetic dental practice in Rohnert Park for over 27 years. He can be reached at 585-8595 or e-mail info@ malkemusdds.com. Visit www.malkemusdds.com for more information.