East county residents join hands, hearts and feet to support all affected by cancer

by: STAFF PHOTO BY JIM HART - Cancer survivors begin walking the first lap at the Relay for Life in Estacada at the high school track. The young boy at right is 8-year-old Mikey Miltenberger, who has been cancer free for two years.There aren’t many people in Estacada who didn’t know Joel Barber. He was one of the few who had a positive attitude about everything.

Chanty Goit says if you met him once, he was your friend.

Joel’s mother, Marla Toma, said he was so welcoming that his circle of friends included people of an extremely wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.

When 24-year-old Joel died of lung cancer in April, the community and all of his friends felt a great loss. Hundreds of people filled the Baptist church with a standing-room-only crowd.

Goit said there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.

Many of those wet eyes gathered again midday Saturday when hundreds participated in the Relay for Life benefit for the American Cancer Society (ACS) at the Estacada High School track.

Since the event was dedicated to the memory of Joel, his mother took the microphone and set the tone for this year’s 24-hour “marathon” of walking or running around the track.

Joel became connected with the Relay in 2010, soon after he was diagnosed with stage-3 lung cancer. He didn’t know what the relay was all about but showed up anyway.

by: STAFF PHOTO BY JIM HART - This huge screw was carved out of a tree by Scott Lundeen to symbolize Joel Barbers attitude toward the disease that ultimately took his life in April. The screw is now at the family home in Eagle Creek, and will become the centerpiece in a memorial at the home.That’s when he noticed some of his friends wearing “Team Joel” T-shirts. They wanted to support him by raising funds for ACS.

After that year’s relay he called his mother, who now lives in Canby.

“He thought that was pretty cool,” Toma told Saturday’s Relay walkers before the “Survivors’ Lap.”

In 2011, Toma joined the relay to see what had attracted her son to the event the previous year.

She was surprised to see those Team Joel T-shirts still being worn by more of his friends.

Toma said Joel was in good spirits and relatively good health last summer at the relay.

“After the (2011) relay, I told Joel that in 2012 we would all get involved in fundraising,” she said, “now that we knew what it was all about.”

Throughout the year, Joel and his mother talked about what they would do to make the relay a fun event in 2012, she said. They actually formed a “Team Joel” that grew to three teams, each with 15 members.

But Joel didn’t make it to the 2012 relay. He was there in spirit, Toma said, and in the hearts of those who walk in his memory.

“This is why I relay,” Toma said, “and this is why I will continue to relay (until there’s a cure for cancers).”

Goit has been walking the relay track for five years, organizing teams and raising funds throughout each year by making and selling salsa and doing other assorted activities such as art for the silent auction, car washes, bingo, and collecting cans and bottles for the return deposit.

But she’s more than a fundraising team organizer. She’s a supporter, knowing what it is like for family members to lose someone to cancer. Goit lost her grandmother to cancer two weeks after her first Relay for Life.

“I keep coming back to the relay and raising funds throughout the year to see the fight in people,” she said. “I work to support their fight and their drive and their determination to beat an ugly disease. I want to give them hope and the knowledge that there are people who want to help them.”

Stacy Sager of Estacada started going to relays seven years ago after her father was diagnosed with cancer that affected one organ in 2004 and then another organ in 2005. Sager’s family came to the relay with two teams last weekend to support the man who is now considered a cancer survivor.

“I keep coming back,” Sager said, “because every year there’s somebody else (among family or friends) who is diagnosed. I’m supporting them, but they also are supporting me.

“(Walking at the relay) helps me because I feel like I’m doing something for them. And I like the fact that ACS supports research for all cancers.”

This year was Terri Renoe’s first year at a relay. She has been supporting the March of Dimes for 11 years, and her family talked her into joining one of the family’s Relay for Life teams.

Her large family has been so affected by cancer and has lost so many members to the disease that there is a large contingent of the family in the Hillsboro area that has been active in relays for years. The family is so large that Renoe’s mother, Nadine Liebertz, 88, says she has 18 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Liebertz, a former Marine, is a survivor after surgery in 2004, Renoe in 2009. Both are Eagle Creek residents, and to them the relay also is like a mini family reunion.

The family team, named “Guns 'n' Hoses,” represents its members who have served in the military as well as those who have served their communities as firefighters.

Brande Miltenberger is another relay team captain and the mother of 8-year-old Mikey, who has been cancer free for two years. He was diagnosed at age 3 with leukemia and had treatments for 3-1/2 years.

Judging from his expression as he walked alongside the much older folks, no one was prouder than Mikey to walk the “Survivors’ Lap.”

Miltenberger has been walking the relay for three years to give and receive the support that can be seen everywhere around the track during the 24-hour event.

“It’s nice to know that you have people around who care and know what you have gone through,” she said. “We’ll be doing this for quite a few years. We feel blessed that (Mikey) is cancer free.”

Sager is among a seemingly growing group of people who profess to continue walking the relays during the rest of their lives.

“I will never be done,” she said. “Even though my family and friends may have been cured of cancer, they still have it; they’re still a survivor; and it still has affected their lives and my life — and survivors need support their whole life.”

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