SEASIDE — Bright paper flowers in varying shades of purple, softly illuminated memorial bags and attendees of all ages take lap after lap around a track for multiple hours of continuous movement. Each symbol present Saturday at Seaside High School contributed to the underlying message of the annual Relay For Life of Clatsop County: celebrate, remember and fight back.
Although the traditional 24-hour event, which started at 10 a.m. Saturday, was shortened because of bad weather, about 15 teams from around the county withstood high winds and rain to raise awareness and funds for the fight to end cancer. Relay For Life, an annual American Cancer Society event, brings “awareness in the community, and camaraderie,” said Linda Yeager, of Astoria. Her husband, Tim, being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia is what got the family involved with Relay about 15 years ago.
“Seventeen years ago, they gave me 10 years to live,” Tim Yeager said.
He was seen at Oregon Health & Science University and treated with Gleevec, a drug that targets the disease at a cellular level. Wanting to give back to the cause, he donated bone marrow and blood for research and became the state lead for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network during the organization’s early years.
“I want to do anything I can for others to survive,” he said, adding the hope is in 50 or so years, people will view cancer the same way they now do infections, which used to result in higher mortality rates.
For Linda Yeager, as a caregiver, support from friends, family and the community was “everything, because it’s just an amazing journey to go through.”
A portion of the funds raised through Relay are designated for cancer research to help find a cure and develop new therapies. The funds also go to support programs, resources for patients and caregivers, education and advocacy.
Since 1994, the countywide Relay For Life has taken place every year, although it alternates between Seaside and Astoria. The co-chairs this year were Brian Cole and Laura Parvi, whose father-in-law was the late Kay Bredleau, one of the founders that got Relay started in Clatsop County.
The reason many people value Relay and support it, according to Parvi, is because cancer touches almost everyone’s life in some way
“We all have that common bond … and we all want the same thing,” she said, adding Relay brings people together over the mutual goal of seeking a cure.
During the event, which mostly took place outside on the high school’s track and field, team members took turns walking and monitoring their booths, from which they sold coffee and snacks, gave attendees the chance to play bra pong or hosted other smaller fundraisers.
Participants tie-dyed shirts at Columbia Memorial Hospital’s booth and learned about colon cancer from Dr. Holly Barker at Providence Seaside Hospital’s large inflatable Strollin’ Colon. Astoria’s Poshe Salon & Spa cut hair to be donated to Locks of Love. People could get swabbed and placed on the National Marrow Donor Program’s registry. Several local bands and two from Portland provided live music throughout the day.
Cancer survivors, led by Grand Marshal Jane Johnson, and caregivers took the first lap around the track. Many of the subsequent laps were given themes, such as Pajama Party, Make Some Noise, Team Pride, Cake Walk and Tutu.
During the late-night Luminaria Ceremony, which Parvi described as “the heart of the Relay,” hundreds of bags lit from within by candles glowed in honor of lives touched by cancer. The ceremony was held inside because of the weather, but Parvi said the atmosphere still was touching and left an impression.
Friends and family dedicated the luminaria bags to their loved ones — mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends and co-workers — who lost their lives to, survived or currently are battling cancer. Although marked by grief, the ceremony also was a time to celebrate those lives and nourish hope for the future.
Organizers intended for the event to continue throughout the night, with the luminaria providing light to guide walkers through the darkness, but decided to close down after the ceremony.
“We were just concerned for safety,” Parvi said.
During the day, though, she said, “it was nice people didn’t give up because of the storm.”
Overall, 19 teams participated in this year’s Relay For Life, although not all showed up the day of the event. The approximately 230 team participants raised at least $54,000 for the American Cancer Society. Money is still being received, Parvi said, and the teams have through August to continue fundraising.