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'Relay' races to save lives, build hope

Organizers hope to attract 800 or more for annual campaign


Celebrate. Remember. Fight back.

With that admonition, hundreds of local residents will flock to the Washington County Fairgrounds this weekend, June 28-29, to try to make a difference in the battle against cancer by taking part in the yearly “Relay For Life” event sponsored by the American Cancer Society.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Volunteers gathered at P.F. Changs bistro at Tanasbourne Monday to promote the Relay For Life event this weekend. Left to right are: Mary Vander Yacht, Kim Knox, Mark Vander Yacht, Steve Atkinson, Pat Salas and Jeanie Zamarripa-Lee. In addition to hosting the volunteers, Changs donated 20 percent of its Monday receipts and painted its iconic horses purple to show support for the American Cancer Societys campaign.

“Teams of usually 15 or more camp out at the fair complex and take turns walking around the track for 24 hours,” explained Amber Dickey, communications chairwoman for Hillsboro’s Relay For Life and a Relay team captain.

Although the impetus for the fundraiser is somber, the activity itself is positive and often fun.

“We have a full day and night of activities, bands and events for the entire family and community,” Dickey explained. “The movement symbolizes hope and a shared goal to end a disease that threatens the lives of so many people we love. Participating in the Relay For Life of Hillsboro is a way to take action and help finish the fight against cancer. It is an opportunity to honor cancer survivors, remember those we have lost, and raise funds and awareness to help end cancer.”

Organizers have set a goal of raising $150,000 over the weekend. The money goes to support research, education, advocacy and patient services for those with cancer.

Steve Atkinson, one of the Relay For Life event co-chairs, said the campaign is very personal to him.

“I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in 1986 at the age of 13,” Atkinson said. “The doctors gave me a 5 percent chance to live, due to the location and severity of my type of cancer.”

After being diagnosed, Atkinson began chemotherapy and radiation treatments that lasted for nine months.

“Since my cancer was rare, I was lucky enough to be in an experimental program through the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I went through aggressive chemo and radiation treatments before a bone marrow transplant. I was lucky enough to have an identical twin brother who gave me his bone marrow. The other kids in the program were not as lucky. Very few people survived the transplant, or were stricken with other cancers.”

Atkinson, who lives in Aloha, is now 41 and cancer-free.

“I’ve been living with cancer my whole life,” he said. “It’s an emotional roller-coaster, but I was determined not to cry about it, but be tough and fight and live each day. A positive attitude gets people through.”

Atkinson said he basically “hid” from his lifelong battle with cancer until about eight years ago, when he was introduced to Relay For Life.

“I’ve learned the past eight years the importance of sharing my story and asking others to share their story,” he said. “If everyone who has been touched by cancer was comfortable enough to share their story, it would make every new diagnosis easier for everyone involved.”

Atkinson added that remaining positive is important in treating cancer, and Relay For Life has been adept at providing that type of support.

“The way they make families feel so supported and normal is so positive and uplifting,” he said, adding that becoming involved in Relay For Life is one way he hopes to pay back all those who have helped him over the years.

“It’s my way of thanking those who helped me in my journey,” Atkinson said.

Another Relay For Life co-chair, Mary Vander Yacht, said she became involved in the campaign 12 years ago when she worked for Intel. She was at a meeting at Intel one day and decided to participate when a volunteer opportunity was mentioned.

“We had recently lost two of our co-workers to cancer, and several people joined a team to raise money in their honor,” she said. “We called our team the ‘Intel Originals.’”

In addition to losing friends to cancer, Vander Yacht’s family has been hard-hit by the disease.

“My friend Terry is who I began Relaying for,” she explained. “She was brash, funny, and a real character. It was hard on her family: she was a young mother. In the passing years, my father became a stomach cancer survivor, my mother-in-law recently was diagnosed, my Aunt Mikie died from breast cancer, and my mother passed away from colon and liver cancer.”

Dickey said the campaign’s goals for 2014 include bringing in 50 teams with a total of about 800 participants. Also, about 250 cancer survivors are expected to be on hand for the event.

“Shortly after our 10 a.m. opening ceremony, survivors walk our first lap as our participants cheer them on and celebrate them,” Dickey added.

In addition to walking, Relay For Life teams will host a silent auction Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. to help bring in additional funds.

Besides helping to collect money to help fight cancer, Vander Yacht said she appreciated being able to provide support to those diagnosed with cancer.

“What I like about raising money for Relay For Life is not only the thought of ending cancer, but the support the American Cancer Society gives cancer patients,” she said. “It’s much more than the money. It lets survivors know we are there for them.”

Dickey said she is impressed with the way support for the fundraiser has grown since the first Relay For Life of Hillsboro event in 2003, which attracted just a few teams to the Hillsboro Stadium.

“Together, they raised about $3,000,” Dickey said. “We moved to the Washington County Fair Complex in 2010 to continue to grow and raise awareness in the Hillsboro community.”

At the June 17 meeting of the Hillsboro City Council, Mayor Jerry Willey proclaimed this weekend as “Relay For Life Days,” and urged citizens to participate in this weekend’s events.

“Relay For Life is the signature activity of the American Cancer Society, and honors cancer survivors — anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer — and remembers those lost to the disease,” Willey said. “I urge all citizens to participate in the Relay For Life of Hillsboro at the Washington County Fairgrounds on June 28 and 29.”

Atkinson and Vander Yacht said they appreciated the support of the mayor and the city of Hillsboro.

“The city has a wonderful Relay For Life team,” Atkinson said. “The city has been part of this since Day One.”