Echoing through the early morning air at College of the Siskiyous Sunday was “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back!” as cancer survivors and supporters yelled the three words in remembrance of cancer survivors and those fallen victim to the disease.
The statement marked the end of the Fight Back Ceremony and the beginning of the Final Lap of the American Cancer Society’s Siskiyou County Relay For Life event.
The rally brought together over 1,000 Siskiyou County residents all in the name of fighting cancer.
Relay is not for athletes or super fit volunteers, which isn’t to say some weren’t there. It is a 24 hour camp-out, sing-song, walk, jog, run party that welcomes all levels of capability.
Twenty teams of 10 to 12 members and over a dozen volunteers participated by always having at least one member walking or running around the COS track.
The sixth annual event raised over $55,000 to be donated toward cancer research and local cancer services, said event co-chair Leila Zehsazian.
“Relay is all about members of the community coming together to honor cancer survivors, remember those we’ve lost, celebrate life, and join the effort to find a cure,” she said. “By coming out we’re making a statement. We’re pledging to fight back and we won’t stop until we find a cure.”
From the somberness of the Fight Back Ceremony, walkers set off marching the Final Lap to James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” Dancing and singing around the track, participants celebrated as the voice of the late “Godfather of Soul” reverberated off nearby mountains.
“Many of the participants are cancer survivors. Their involvement is a testament to the fact that a survivor can have a wonderful future after treatment,” said Zehsazian.
The event began on Saturday morning with the opening ceremonies: Survivor Ceremony, Survivor Lap, Care Givers Lap and Team Laps. There was entertainment throughout the day and dinner catered by Hi-Lo Catering.
The dedication of the volunteers and participants was undeniable as the sun went down and eventually disappeared and cancer fighters, sometimes silent and somber, sometimes bursting out in cheers, circled the track continuously until morning.
Zehsazian noted the next morning that members of a local team, Butterflies of Hope, at 3:30 in the morning were cheering on every walker that went past their camp.
One of the most humbling images of the event was the Luminary Ceremony Saturday evening. Thousands of glowing white paper bags lined the track on the vast field. The sacks held small candles and each bag was decorated by family and friends in dedication to a loved one who was fighting or had lost a battle with cancer.
“When you get tired, and you read those names it becomes meditative - you can’t stop,” reminisced Zehsazian.
In the midst of all the volunteers, balloons and song, the paper lanterns stood sentry as a testament for the reminder of the lives lost and the lives that go on fighting.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Zehsazian. “The fight against cancer is year-round.”
Through all the festivities there was an overwhelming sense of community. The hugs and smiles were free flowing and there was a general feeling of hope. Bob Logan, The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Manager said “the success of the event is because of this community. Without the people of Siskiyou County this would have never been possible.”
The top three fund-raising teams of the event were Paisanos E Famiglia, Rich’s Rooters and Our Gang/Mercy Medical Center, for first, second and third place, respectfully. In their first year participating in the event as a team, Paisanos E Famiglia raised over $9,500 for the fight against cancer. The top individual raiser was Amber Debon, accountant for the Relay For Life Planning Committee, with $2,100.