SAN PEDRO AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: A $130,000 SOOTHING SUCCESS
Blake Marquez, 6, sits next to her sister's photos at the relay. Her sister, Paige, 4, died last year of a radical brain tumor.
Below: Vickie Guglielmo, Kim Blanks and Aurora Rojas raised thousands of dollars for Dana Middle School's team. Vickielost her mother recently to lung cancer.
It was the oddest feeling, as though I’d come home. Or perhaps it was a sense that I belonged.
My son and I were walking along San Pedro High School’s track about 9 p.m. last Saturday night holding “luminaries” to honor those who’ve died from cancer and those who have survived, a fundraiser called the “Cancer Relay.”
A damp mist trickled our faces as we walked quietly in the cool sea air and looked at some 800 bags glowing with lit candles inside. We’d hear people murmur as they saw a bag with a name on it: “I remember her.” Or…I remember him.”
Sitting on the bleachers, a set of golden luminaries bathed out the words: Hope & Faith.
It was so poignant. But for some reason, I didn’t feel sad at all. Later, I believed that my sense of peace was exactly what Mary Hamlin, the co-chair of this American Cancer Society relay, told me she felt during the event -- that her loved ones she lost to cancer were somehow with her.
I sensed that too. I sensed that all of those who had died from this dreaded illness had settled in along side me. Side by side, it seemed I was walking with my friend, Matt, 16, who died from neuroblastoma, my adopted father, Papa, who died from lung cancer and though I never met her, the loss of a tiny sprite, Paige Marquez, who died at the age of four, from a brain tumor.
As a columnist for More San Pedro, I covered Paige’s story and never could get her to quit whirling around in my mind. That evening, I was hoping to spot her family to reconnect. But so far, I had not received that blessing.
Ryan and I shuffled along with the rest, hundreds of those honoring friends and family deceased to cancer or to those battking with it now. Some giggled as life should be happy; other walkers were lost deep in thought. But but we were all pulled together, threaded by a bond, of loss and caring and perhaps even of love. This year’s relay made $130,000 toward cancer research – which ended last Sunday, May 17. Twenty-seven teams from all over San Pedro responded – schools, businesses, youth organizations to join the fight to raise money. All day long, and for a continuous chunk of the night, the teams walked the track to memorialize those who had died and to respect cancer survivors.
As far as the co-chair, Mary, is concerned, we need to stop cancer in its tracks. She described the horrible pain of losing family and friends to some form of cancer or another, in the past five years -- including her mother, her best friend, her father-in-law
and lastly, her sister, Lenora Mecham, 62, who died of lung cancer.
Her depression deepend after that, but when she heard about such relays, she jumped aboard.
“The relay gave me back my life,” Mary explained, after saying she became tired of being a victim. “I feel I’m doing something constructive. I feel like my sister is sitting on my shoulder.”
The relay, in its 7th year in San Pedro, and continuously gains steam as more people find this as a solid way to heal their losses – and forge ahead to help others.
After Paige died last year, her parents, Cheryl and Tim, began holding fundraising dinners, started a foundation and raised thousands of dollars for brain tumor research and try to help other parents who’ve found themselves in this ugly chasm of a bitter loss.
The Marquez’s learned Paige had an A-Typical Rhabdoid Terratoid brain tumor that is so radical and violent that while her symptoms began in February 2005 and she was diagnosed in June, she died by July 30.
“Fund raising is what we can do for her memory and to help other kiddies,” her father told me. “She is the reason.”
So far that evening, I had not spotted Paige’s family, but then I rounded a bend and there sat a little girl reading something off a poster board with an impish face smiling back. I recognized Paige’s photo instantly, and saw her father, Tim, brushing tears from his eyes, as Paige’s sister, Blake, 6, proudly read memories from Paige’s board.
“What I would like people to remember about cancer is that it does not discriminate with regard to age, religion, ethnicity, or financial status,” Paige’s father e-mailed me later. “It takes the ones you love and tries to destroy their life and yours, but through fund raising for research and family assistance we can make a difference and fight cancer. We must fight for the families who are afflicted now and the families who are to come in the future.”
Last year, the family had their own team for the relay. This year, due to another family illness, they attended, but did not form a team. That, however, will not stop this family.
Their Paige L. Marquez Pediatric Brian Tumor Foundation has raised nearly $26,000 to help those other children afflicted by cancer, he said, donating $8,200 to Miller Children’s Hospital/Children’s Cancer Center, $4,100 to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and $4,100 to the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation.
This year, the family will do another big fundraiser – with the goal of earning $35,000 – on July 28 at the San Pedro’s Elk Lodge. (More will be posted on the blog about this event.)
Cancer impacts everyone sometime in their lives. People like you and me. People like
Kim Blanks, responsible this year for lighting and putting together the hundreds of luminaries that graced the track.
She formed the Dana Middle School Team last year, and realized that it was part of her calling to continue the relay efforts.
“I guess I do this because of those I have lost and for those who have had to suffer from cancer. I think I always need some cause to help schools or the community,” she told me.
Dana’s adult relay team raised nearly $6,000 this year, but perhaps more interesting is the way the students responded when Kim asked for their help to provide funds for cancer victims.
The students brought in coins by the hundreds and raised about $1,581 in four days. That
So in the end if we keep working hard enough, we won’t have to look for angels sitting on our shoulders They will be sitting right next to us, instead.