More than 300 people are expected to hit the athletic field at Chula Vista High School Saturday for this year’s Relay for Life.
The American Cancer Society, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary, began Relay for Life in 1985 to involve local communities in the fight against cancer. With relays in more than 20 countries, including 5,200 American communities, it has become the world’s top fundraising event.
“Having that community-based feel to it is really what makes the event special,” said Julie Pierce, local Relay for Life manager. “It’s your friends and neighbors. It’s your kids’ friends, and your aunts and your uncles. I believe the relay is successful because it is so personal.”
The event has its solemn moments like the Luminaria Ceremony, a tribute to patients who have died, but it aims at keeping a mostly upbeat atmosphere. Empowering tributes like the Survivor Lap or off-beat moments like the Crazy Hat Lap keep spirits high.
“It’s a party,” said Ira Patron, chair of the Chula Vista Relay for Life. “A lot of cancer patients don’t like to talk about it or don’t feel comfortable. This is one place where they can come and meet other patients and share their stories and share their experiences.”
While cancer-related death rates have slowly declined both nationally and locally, it is more important than ever to keep support and awareness levels high, Patron added.
“We cannot finish the fight without the community’s help,” he said. “Cancer has no face. It’s everybody.”
Cancer-related deaths have decreased over the past decade in southern San Diego County according to the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. Still, cancer remains a leading cause of death in South Bay.
The disease continues to kill more than 300 south San Diego residents each year according to a 2012 county report. This makes it second only to diabetes as the most lethal chronic illness in the region.
Two out of three people diagnosed with cancer live five or more years, a vast improvement over the last 50 years, said Pierce.
In support of patients, survivors and those who have lost their lives to cancer, relay team members will take turns walking laps around the track at Chula Vista High for what will be 24 hours of continuous marching.
“Even though this event is all about fundraising, it’s also about community involvement,” said Lorraine DeLorie, team development chair for the relay. “There isn’t a single person out there who doesn’t have some connection to cancer.”
The biggest challenges facing the event are economic, added DeLorie, whose mother is a survivor while her father died from cancer.
“Unfortunately the way the economy is people aren’t as willing to participate in these fundraising events,” she said.
“Do we have all the bells and whistles that we would like? No, but we will have the relay with or without those. One way or another we are going to make it happen. If we all work together we can beat this disease.”