Ten teams will take to the track at Clear Creek Middle School on Saturday

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Participants in Relay for Life events raised nearly $5 million in 2012 nationwide, which helped with funding for research and patient services at Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Portland.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

Across the country for the past 28 years, those touched by cancer and those hoping to see its eradication in their lifetime have let their footfalls shake the world by raising money for the American Cancer Society.

The tradition will continue Saturday, June 21, when 10 teams of walkers and runners gather on the track at Clear Creek Middle School for the Gresham Relay for Life.

Relay for Life is the largest nationwide fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, garnering millions of dollars annually for cancer research.

Funding from the Relay for Life has supported major work done locally at Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Portland. In 2012, funds raised nationally through the Relay for Life provided $160 million toward research and another $304 million for patient support services.

The events are family friendly and kick off by honoring cancer survivors with a Survivors Walk. At 10 p.m., illuminated paper bags light the track for a luminaria ceremony, in remembrance of those lost to cancer.

The Relay for Life was born from a humble effort by a Northwest physician, who probably never expected his personal project to become such a highly recognized event.

In the mid-1980s, Tacoma, Wash., colorectal surgeon Dr. Gordy Klatt embarked on a one-man mission to raise funds for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Klatt was a marathon runner and chose to integrate his passion into a fundraising effort.

In May 1985, Klatt spent 24 hours circling the track in Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

Friends and family members paid $25 to run or walk beside him in 30-minute intervals. In the end, Klatt raised $27,000 by himself to help fight cancer. The event was renamed the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer the following year and eventually began spreading to communities nationwide. It is now known as the Relay for Life.

For Sherry Willmschen, coordinator for the Gresham event, participating in her sixth relay is personal. Willmschen is a breast cancer survivor who spent five years in a second career as a patient navigator at OHSU. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - A 10 p.m. luminaria ceremony honors cancer survivors and those lost to the disease. Decorated paper bags are placed around the track and illuminated in remembrance of family and friends touched by cancer.

“Patient navigators provide patients with the support they need,” she said. “It might be resources for lodging, directions to their treatments or just listening to them. At OHSU, people come from all over. There are only two (American Cancer Society) patient navigators in Oregon — one at OHSU and one at (Legacy) Good Samaritan Hospital. They serve patients all over the state, but there were none in Oregon at the time I started in 2008.”

Willmschen, who lost both her parents to cancer, said her survival, as well as the fairly recent addition of patient navigators, demonstrates the impact that funds raised through the Relay for Life are making.

“All the research and work being done at OHSU and other places are the reason why people are still alive today,” she said. “That’s the concept of the Relay for Life.”

For more information or to register for an event, visit and click on the Relay for Life link.

Relay for Life events in the metro area include:

Gresham, noon Saturday, June 21, Clear Creek Middle School, 219 N.E. 219th Ave.

Portland, 4 p.m. Saturday, July 19, to 10 a.m. Sunday, July 20, Jackson Middle School, 10625 S.W. 35th Ave.

Estacada, noon Saturday, July 19, Estacada High School, 355 N.E. Sixth Ave.

Sandy, 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, Sandy High School, 17100 S.E. Bluff Road.

East Portland, 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, Portland Christian School, 12425 N.E. San Rafael St.

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