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Relaying a message of hope

Sandy Relay For Life honors cancer victims and raises funds for research
by: Marcus Hathcock, Cancer survivor Mary Marshall, left, and Sandy Relay For Life chairwoman Jaye Tyler visit on the Sandy High School track, the site of the annual fund-raiser.

According to the cancer journal 'CA,' cancer kills more than 1,500 Americans every day. Think of the entire population of Sandy, gone, in less than a week.

The disease literally will get a run for its money this weekend at the Sandy High School track during the third annual Sandy Relay For Life, taking place from 6 p.m. Friday, July 28, to 9 a.m. Saturday, July 29.

The fund-raiser brings together teams of cancer survivors, patients, caregivers, and their friends and families to benefit the American Cancer Society and cancer research. Each team comprises 12 to 15 members, who take turns circling the track. Last year, 18 teams participated in the Sandy relay and raised $28,000, part of the 4,300 relays which brought in $351 million total.

The first relay was in Tacoma, Wash., in 1985. Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon, spent 24 hours circling the track at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. He raised $27,000 for cancer. Since then, various communities across the United States have repeated the event.

In Sandy, organizers look forward to building on past successes - and some better weather.

'The first two years we had torrential rains for the weekends,' said Jaye Tyler, the Sandy Relay's chairwoman. 'But it did not dampen our spirits.'

To help where Mother Nature could not, organizers moved this year's relay from June to July. Despite the recent heat wave that hit the area, Tyler doesn't see the weather interfering as much as in the past. 'We were talking about the heat, and even if it's hot during the day, our event doesn't start until 6 p.m.,' she said.

The relay is an overnight event. Like many aspects of this event, the timing is symbolically significant.

'It has to be an overnight event because cancer never sleeps,' Tyler said, 'and it's on a track because there's no finish line until there's a cure.'

For Mary Marshall and her family, the relay offers a great deal of hope in dealing with the disease. Marshall, 61, battled bladder cancer six years ago, and her family also has dealt with the loss of her aunt's husband about 10 years ago, and her mother-in-law and father in the past year, all from cancer.

'It's something my family does as a team and tries to have fun with it,' Marshall said. 'It's well worth your time to do.'

Marshall and her family team, including her husband, daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, sister and brother-in-law, are back for their second year at the Relay for Life of Sandy. They've all witnessed how cancer touches many lives through each patient.

'It's not only hard on you, it's hard on your family and friends,' said Marshall, a resident of Sandy for 34 years.

For Marshall, the most powerful moment is the Survivor's Lap, when all attending cancer survivors are honored as they walk the first lap together.

'The thought of all these people gathering together and to see the survivors walk the first lap, that's a breath taker,' Marshall said. 'It's emotional.'

Another emotional portion of the relay, the Luminary Ceremony, consists of white bags filled with sand and a candle that are decorated with names, pictures or other mementos honoring cancer survivors, or in memory of those who did not survive.

'Each of those bags, each of those candles represents an individual, and I'm really looking forward to seeing them all around the track,' said Cathy Taylor, a Relay for Life of Sandy committee member and a cancer survivor. 'I think it's going to be quite moving.'

The candles are lit at 10 p.m. as the luminaries are placed around the track, and the ceremony culminates in participants making silent laps as the word 'hope' shines from the stands.

For Taylor, who discovered she had breast cancer on her 40th birthday, that one little word captures a great deal about her fight against the disease.

'It really was a wake-up call,' Taylor said. 'My whole way of looking at life changed. I was always a very optimistic person, but now I'm disgustingly optimistic. I believe that everything happens for a reason and good comes from everything.'

In the eight years since she was diagnosed with cancer, Taylor has learned to drive, quit smoking after 25 years and graduated from Portland Community College with honors. Taylor also believes that taking action to fight cancer, whether through Relay for Life or signing a petition, is vitally important.

'I'm a very strong believer in getting involved in stuff like this,' Taylor said. 'If we weren't doing these things, there wouldn't be any hope.'

The relay includes a number of other activities, including a silent auction, music, dancing, games and a pancake dinner held by the Kiwanis. Relay teams are encouraged to decorate their campsites and dress up in conjunction with the relay theme, which this year is 'Go for the Gold - Relay Olympiad.'

Tyler expects about 300 people at the relay, similar numbers to previous years. Anybody is welcome to offer support, join in the festivities or just get an idea about what the event entails.

'I wish more people would take part in it,' said Marshall. 'It's just catching on in Sandy, and hopefully it will get bigger and bigger each year.'

IT'S NOT TOO LATE

There is still time to register a team for the Relay for Life of Sandy. For more information or to register, call Jaye Tyler at 503-668-7894 or Holly Ball at 503-795-3946.