Forest Grove Relay raises $70,000 for cancer research, awareness

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: TACEY SMITH - The theme for this years Forest Grove Relay for Life was Superheroes: Finish the Fight. Walkers raised $70,000 for cancer research and services.They had to walk all day and all night to do it, but the 200-plus cancer survivors and their families, friends and congregation members who gathered at the Neil Armstrong Middle School track last Saturday for the 2014 Forest Grove Relay for Life succeeded in raising more than $70,000 in donations for cancer research and awareness.

“Every dollar counts,” said Brenda Kintz, a cancer patient and co-chair of the fundraising team Fight Like You Mean It!

Four years ago, Kintz was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, an extremely rare cancer that has no known cure. Since then she has fought a constant battle with the disease while raising funds and teaching others about her condition and about the American Cancer Society (ACS), where the $70,000 will be donated.

(Left to right) Christopher Crosby, Erin Morelli (holding Abby Morelli), Ross Morelli, James Vanderzanden and David Morelli don wacky headgear during Crazy Hat hour 6 p.m. Saturday during Relay for Life Forest Grove.Besides providing research money, ACS also provides essential services for cancer patients. “The only hospital equipped to treat my cancer is in Seattle,” Kintz said. “ACS pays for my transportation and lodging to get there.”

Thanks to fundraising efforts like Relay For Life, cancer survival rates have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, mostly due to better education, which helps patients detect symptoms and seek treatment sooner.

“I was not aware of what my body was telling me, so I did not get detected until 2010,” said Kintz. “I had to have seven abdominal tumors removed and now the pigment in my hair is gone.”

But Kintz never gave up. “You have to be ready to put up a fight for your life, to fight like you mean it. Hence the name of my group.” by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: TACEY SMITH - Colorina Rojas (left to right) Marco Antonio Velazquez (with baby on board) and 3-year-old bike rider Kevin Alexander Rojas trudged and pedaled away the miles at Saturdays Relay for Life in Forest Grove.

Perhaps the most aptly named group — given Saturday’s sweltering heat — was “Bedes of Sweat,” from St. Bede’s Episcopal Church on Elm Street. Members of the group were dressed in bright yellow capes with “BOS” written in Comic Sans script across the back.

“My husband Kerry got dressed in tights as Superman earlier today,” said Eldena VanderZanden, the leader of BOS and one of the top individual fundraisers. VanderZanden herself survived breast cancer in 2000, and since then has raised money from 14 states and two foreign countries by writing letters that tell her story. “I spin a good yarn,” she said.

The 63-year-old VanderZanden planned on walking 57 laps — more than 14 miles — for her friend Karen, another cancer patient. She ended up walking 74. “I get a bead for each lap from the group, ‘We’ll Walk for the Cure,’ and I’m going to make a few necklaces out of those beads to give to Karen’s daughter.”

Participants were encouraged to dress up as superheroes, pirates, animals or Disney characters, depending on that hour’s theme. BOS was well represented on the track at 6 p.m., the Crazy Hat hour.

“They call me Goofy of Arabia,” said David Morelli, who sported a hat that bore the likeness of Disney’s Goofy character and also covered the back of his neck like a keffiyeh.

While neither Camryn Pilatti nor Rebecca Frawley wore very silly hats, they had a much bigger goal on their minds. The two 11-year-old cousins were hell-bent on walking 104 laps, the equivalent of a marathon, in memory of their relatives who had died of cancer.

Santiago Alexander Velazquez, 7, (arms outstretched) and his friend, Luke Yankovich, enjoy the giant water spritzer provided at Saturdays Relay for Life to give participants a break from the 90-degree temperatures.“When I’m done I’m going to drop on the ground and sleep,” Rebecca said with a giggle. Pilatti and Frawley were among seven BOS members who walked the 26.2-mile distance over the course of the Relay.

But even 100 laps didn’t compare to what Shannon O’Brien aimed to achieve. The former PE teacher at Neil Armstrong set out to walk 150 laps, and was already halfway done by 6 p.m. Saturday. “This is the same track I would run my kids on when I taught here. I want to be a good, physically fit role model,” said O’Brien, whose face was sunburned pink. “If I can do it, they can do it.”

Of the 29 teams at the Relay, Kintz’ Fight Like You Mean It! came out on top, raising $6,825. Cousins Camryn Pilatti and Rebecca Frawley, both 11, get their lap cards punched by T.J. Gray of Mountain View Medical Center, which gave each walker a reusable band with a pedometer and chapstick every 11.5 laps.

While $70,000 is a good chunk of change, the Forest Grove Relay Planning Committee is hoping for $80,000 by Aug. 31. Though the Relay is over, the opportunity to donate is still open. Find out more at

Phillip Thompson-Aue (left) and Alyssa Chludzinski represented the wackier wing of Relay walkers. Chludzinski was with a team from Marquis Vital Voyages Assisted Living Facility/the Marvel Market, which likes to be as wacky as we can get, she said.

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