July 17, 2014 |

Stepping Up to Relay For Life

Brush off your sneakers and get ready for a day of fun, purpose and inspiration – the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life is coming to Culver City.

West Los Angeles College is the site of this 24-hour event that kicks off with an Opening Ceremony at approximately 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2, ushering in a slew of activities that continue throughout the night and into the following morning.

Three special traditions (Survivors Lap, Luminaria Ceremony and Fight Back Ceremony) form Relay's core.

In the Survivors Lap, which follows the Opening Ceremony, survivors circle the track to celebrate their victories over cancer. Caregivers are also recognized and celebrated for the invaluable support they provide.

In the evening Luminaria Ceremony, candles are lit inside decorated bags filled with sand that have been placed around the track during the day, the bags bearing the names of those affected by or lost to cancer. A lap is walked in their honor or memory. This poignant yet hopeful new memory of a track ringed with luminarias is one that lasts long after the candles go out.

In the Fight Back Ceremony, participants commit to save lives by taking action against this disease, such as by quitting smoking, getting screening tests, talking to groups, communicating with elected officials and raising awareness.

Fun activities being planned include board games, crafts, music, yoga, dancing, Zumba, martial arts, scavenger hunt, K-9 police demo, poetry slam, drag competition and movies after dark.

The roots of this signature event reach back to May, 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Washington, literally took steps to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Having witnessed the brutal effects of cancer as a doctor, he decided to use his experience as a marathon runner and invited his friends to pay $25 to walk or run in 30-minute increments with him over a 24-hour period. He raised $27,000, logged over 83 miles, and the seeds for Relay were sown.

If you, too, wish to take that crucial first step to fight cancer by walking, forming a team, fundraising, donating and/or volunteering, please coordinate with Kimberlee Smith, Relay Specialist, at (310) 346-8968 or kimberlee.smith@cancer.org.

Smith shared having lost her mother in 2007 after a 10-year battle with this disease.

"We were told that when she passed away she had nine different cancers that caused her death," she said. "Each cancer that was found in her was one that her aunt or uncle or her mother's side had passed away from. I also Relay for my grandmother, who is a 30-year breast cancer survivor."

Earle Hartling, Relay team captain of Culver City CERTizens, voiced a sentiment to which many can relate: "I suppose the only thing worse than getting cancer is seeing a loved one suffer through it."

He should know.

"I lost my dad to lung cancer, then helped my mom through breast cancer," he added. "My wife lost her closest childhood friend to bone cancer at the age of 28. Later, I watched while my son's favorite, all-time teacher, Suzi Grimm, withered away with a brain tumor."

In 2010 Hartling volunteered to captain Culver City CERTizens, representing the Culver City Community Emergency Response Team, a group of local citizens trained as volunteer emergency responders to assist the Fire Department during a major disaster that may overwhelm available resources.

"We are walking not only in honor of Culver City Fire Captain Steve Rankin, who lost his battle with melanoma in February, 2010, but CERT member and good friend, Jesse Craig, who lost his battle on Christmas Eve, 2012," he said. "As is also our custom, Culver City CERT provided the first aid station and fielded the Culver City CERTizens Relay team."

Hartling ensures that his team is well fueled, explaining that "each year I've been involved, my wife, Shirley, and son, Vaughn, have spent the day cooking and baking breakfast biscuits, chicken salad, pasta salad, cheese rolls and cupcakes, providing our team with both nourishment and encouragement to keep our energy and spirits up." It must be working because "having walked the zombie shift from 3 a.m. on," he can unequivocally state that his was "the only team able to keep a member on the track for the entire 24 hours in 2013."

He admits being "fairly shameless when it comes to asking for donations, and I have a lot of generous friends. In order to entice friends and colleagues to donate to the cause, I've been making the same deal: I pledge to do 105 laps around the quarter-mile track over the 24 hours of the Relay. For the mathematically challenged, that's 26.25 miles, the length of one standard marathon. After doing 17.5 miles in 2010, I was able to make the whole marathon distance in the following three years, a feat matched at different times by other members of the Culver City CERTizens: Pete Ruscetta, Elaine Hente and Dr. Mike Landau."

Often the top individual fundraiser, Hartling generated approximately $6,000 in each of the last three years, and in 2013 his team came in first by raising $10,827.

And then there's Ashley Forbito, Relay team captain of Kick Ash!, a Relay rookie participating for the first time.

She lost her father to lung cancer about three years ago. "He had an overall healthy life but did, unfortunately, smoke as long as I've been on this planet," she said.

Less than a year after surgery to remove the cancer, it returned and spread to his kidneys. Forbito had less than a week to say goodbye after she learned of its return. "He was gone faster then I could process the information," she said. "My dad was really important to me and played a big role in my life. Since he's passed away it's taken some time for me to feel positive and happy again."

But cancer is a ubiquitous disease, and its presence is inescapable.

"At work a close friend, Samantha H., who is also on our team, let me know her mom was now dealing with stomach cancer," Forbito said. "We both were relating our stories and talking about how she needs to stay strong for her mom and do good. Then the idea came up of what we can do to help others who still have the chance to fight this. Samantha had done a Relay back when she was in middle school and it sounded like a great idea to me."

Forbito, whose desire to make a difference is conveyed with palpable hope and enthusiasm, feels "there are great opportunities in this experience. I get to meet many great people and hear their stories, and we all can relate to one another on a human level. I get to inform people about all the American Cancer Society does to help those in need, and I get to lead a team that is doing good things for others.

"This really is a heartwarming experience, and knowing we are aiding in the fight against cancer is a beautiful thing. I like to always remember we aren't alone. There are also people fighting every second of every day. That should remind me to appreciate all that I have and give what I can to help those that need it. If someone has a chance to fight this, then let the battle begin!"

Reader Comments

(1)

Karinjoy writes:

Sandra Coopersmith is all about making a difference! What a wonderful and inspirational article about working together to find a cure, to have fun and to inspire all.