QUARTZ HILL– Cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and supporters took to Quartz Hill High School’s track this weekend for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Lancaster. The 24-hour event took place from 9 a.m. on Saturday to 9 a.m. on Sunday and included 110 teams from organizations around the Antelope Valley – including Walmart, High Desert Obedience, the Lancaster School District, and the City of Lancaster.
“The goal is to have somebody on your team on the track at all times because cancer never sleeps,” said Event Chairperson, Dana Thomas.
Teams also represented individuals lost to cancer. Kerri Ellyson came out with a group of about 30 people to honor the memory of her husband, Kenny Ellyson, who lost his battle with colon cancer this year.
“He was a wonderful person that loved life and everything about it,” Kerri Ellyson said. “He cared about causes like this and we walked in this relay for life for many years, even before his diagnosis, to bring awareness and to donate and show support for the cause.”
The Relay for Life kicked off around 9 a.m. Saturday, with cancer survivors walking the first lap around the track to celebrate the victory they achieved over cancer.
Music, dancing, and entertainment throughout the day kept attendees motivated, despite the cold weather.
The heart of the event was the Luminaria Ceremony, which took place just after 8 p.m. Participants gathered at the stage tent in the middle of the field to remember loved ones lost to cancer.
Her voice shaking with emotion, Kristine Perez shared the story of her mother’s battle with cancer.
“More than 30 years ago my mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer,” Perez said. “She was lucky that it was very early, stage 0; they did an outpatient procedure and she was fine. She said that she would not allow herself to be considered a survivor and scoffed at the idea because she didn’t want to equate what her experience had been with those people who had suffered with chemotherapy and radiation.”
Perez said her mother, Rebecca Hutchison, continued to live a full life, volunteering for many organizations and activities in the Antelope Valley, including the American Cancer Society. In fact, Hutchison played an integral role in last year’s Relay for Life. But a month after last year’s event, Hutchison was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer, her daughter said.
Perez said the American Cancer Society was instrumental in providing resources for her mother, including a chemotherapy cookbook and a wig.
“She looked at Terry Gore, who’s our patient services representative, and said ‘how much do I owe you for what you’ve given me?’ and Terry said ‘you don’t owe me anything, this is what we work for every year at relay, what we raise money for,’” Perez said.
Rebecca Hutchison passed away on July 29, 2011, due to cancer.
“The one thing that cancer cannot do is cancer cannot take those memories from you,” she said.
Following the ceremony, the lights were shut off at the field, and hundreds of small papers bags, bearing names, photos and messages of those affected by cancer, were illuminated with glow sticks to mark the way, as walkers took a silent lap around the track. Amazing Grace was played on bagpipes.
The illuminated bags were also arranged on the bleachers to spell out the word “Hope.” By the time the walkers rounded the track, the bags had been rearranged to spell out the word “Cure.”
The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Lancaster wrapped around 9 a.m. Sunday with a closing ceremony.
Organizers said teams will continue to raise money until August. The event raised $200,000 last year, and organizers hope to meet or exceed that number this year. All proceeds go directly to the American Cancer Society.