Culver City Observer -

What Rain? Relay For Life Goes On

 

From left; Bazillia Gutierrez, Sandra Coopersmith, Jessica Partida. Gutierrez and Partida are with the American Cancer Society. Coopersmith, a cancer survivor is the features writer for the Culver City Observer.

By Sandra Coopersmith

Features Writer

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

We're all familiar with that quote, versions of which have been attributed to Mark Twain and his friend, Charles Dudley Warner, an American essayist and novelist. But leave it to the American Cancer Society ("ACS") to end run Mother Nature's attempt to rain on our parade!

The Culver City Relay For Life was all set for Saturday, May 16, noon to 8 p.m. in Tellefson Park. However, rain came down on Thursday with the possibility continuing into the weekend, causing the Relay For Life Senior Manager, Bazillia Gutierrez and Community Manager, Jessica Partida, to spring into action.

After learning from Culver City Parks, Recreation & Community Services that the field at Tellefson Park would not be suitable for use because of the rain, alternative arrangements were made to move the event indoors at the Syd Kronenthal Park Building, also necessitating a time change from eight hours to four hours (noon to 4 p.m.). An email blast went out to registered participants regarding the changes. However, all of the traditional ceremonies would be included, as well as fitness classes conducted by Tim and Patrick Curran of Level Sports; Michael DeGood and Mike Pfeiffer of House of Fitness; and Elina Kim of Maitri Yoga.

And a host of in-kind sponsors would be providing food, beverages and gift cards: Little Miracles (organic energy teas), Hubert's Lemonade, Chipotle, Diabolo (sparkling lemonade), Rockin Popcorn, Ziggy's Hair L.A., SuzieCakes in Marina del Rey, Lyfe Kitchen, Lundeen's, C&M Café, Pacific Theatres, PowerCrunch, and Copenhagen Bakery.

The day arrived and the sun was shining, in more ways than one. I felt very honored and grateful to be a Survivor Speaker, and I was quite touched that some of my friends came to hear me speak and offer support: Gail Sullivan, Neil and Theo Rubenstein, and Laurie Sullivan. Laurie, no relation to Gail, lives in Arroyo Grande and is active in their Relay. She is the sister of Judy Glazer, a close friend who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2010. Since then my drawing of Judy is part of my getup whenever I Relay.

As a breast cancer survivor, I welcomed the opportunity to describe my experience and the many valuable services I received from ACS, ending with a poem called "Growth" that I wrote during my first year of recovery:

These discoveries often occur on weekends.

One Saturday morning I found an intruder

In my left breast.

Infiltrating ductal carcinoma

Was the diagnosis.

My carefully tended body had betrayed me

And my life was changed forever.

My breast was amputated and replaced with terror.

LESSON: Fear is a very unsatisfactory prosthesis.

Cancer's magnifying glass forced a painful look

At each aspect of my life.

Slowly, I'm learning to replace fear with acceptance

At death's someday – but please, not someday soon – inevitability

And I'm feeling more connected to life,

Cognizant that every moment is a gift to delight in.

Will I live to be a frisky old lady, scouring the shopping malls?

Maybe, maybe not.

But while I am alive I will live noisily.

I promise to raise hell and suck every drop of joy from my days.

This is my commitment to myself.

My surgery was on November 11, 1991 and this Veterans Day will mark my 24th anniversary as a survivor and veteran of the war against cancer.

Sherwood Kingsley, a survivor of oral cancer, was the second Survivor Speaker. He is a 35-year resident of Culver City, a CPA whose office is located in West Los Angeles, and one of the most hardworking volunteers I've ever known, He told of being diagnosed with cancer of the tongue in 1996. "I couldn't talk for some weeks after surgery, and my family was very happy about that!" he said. As if that weren't enough, in 1998 he was diagnosed with cancer of the left salivary gland.

A tireless volunteer, Sherwood has been and continues to be very active in the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network ("ACS CAN"), which is a member of the Save Lives California Coalition comprised of public health groups, doctors, nurses, patients, survivors, hospitals, health care workers and taxpayers. He described its dedication to passing a potentially lifesaving $2 tobacco tax increase to save lives in California – either through the legislature or by ballot measure – by the end of 2016. For more information or to get involved, go to acscan.org, click on the "legal & privacy information" link at the bottom of the page, or call 1-800-227-2345, which is reachable 24/7.

Following Sherwood's presentation, survivors and caregivers banded together for the Survivors Lap along the outside paved area. Afterwards we all enjoyed a delicious lunch, courtesy of several event sponsors, and many of us participated in the fitness classes. I guilted myself into doing so as penance for inhaling a decadently delicious red velvet cupcake.

During the afternoon I did several laps, some with Laurie and some with Sherwood. While we were walking, Sherwood reminisced about his speech difficulties following surgery, requiring his assistant to communicate his clients' telephone messages to him. He would then write out his responses so she could communicate back to the clients. You do what you have to do.

We segued into the Luminaria Ceremony around 3:30 p.m. The Luminarias, containing light sticks, had been set up in a circle in our large meeting room. The Luminaria Speaker was the very eloquent Rosalynd Divinity, a Clinical Supervisor in the HIV/AIDS department of Watts Healthcare Corporation and the Executive Pastor for Covenant New Life Tabernacle in Culver City.

She spoke movingly about her mother, Lorita Fuller, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2007, necessitating an emergency mastectomy. Thankfully, her mother is now eight years in remission. Rosalynd's message to everyone: "With the love and support of family we can overcome the most difficult challenges."

I felt humbled when she asked me to lead the silent Luminarias Lap in that darkened room, lit by the light sticks we held and those in the Luminarias.

Every Relay I've ever attended has inspired me, and I loved this one. It was warm, intimate, and had special meaning because of the last-minute change in plans, once again showing that ACS will always be here for us as an umbrella of hope, come rain or come shine.

 

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