Culver City Observer -

Transforming Grief Into Hope

Relay For Life Is Coming Up


March 26, 2015

By Sandra Coopersmith

Features writer

Some things, like the unwavering commitment of the American Cancer Society (ACS) to save lives and end cancer, never change.

And some things do, such as this year's Culver City venue for the society's signature event, Relay For Life, to be held at Tellefson Park (Washington Place and Tilden Avenue) on Saturday, May 16, noon to 8 p.m.

Relay For Life, the world's largest and most impactful fundraising event to end cancer, unites communities across the globe to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action to finish the fight once and for all.

Among the many whose lives have been personally affected by cancer are several ACS staff members, such as Bazillia Gutierrez, Senior Manager, Relay For Life, who joined ACS in order to fully commit her energy to the fight against this disease after her father passed away from colon cancer.

When she was asked to create her own team of Community Managers she reached out to Jessica Partida, her former colleague at another nonprofit, who wanted to transition to fundraising.

As Community Manager for the Culver City Relay Partida welcomed an opportunity to share the education she received regarding the many programs available through ACS.

"Everyone knows that the American Cancer Society funds hundreds of millions of dollars in cancer research," she said. "What I didn't know is that ACS also provides patient program services at no cost to cancer patients and their families. Some of these programs include Road to Recovery, a ridesharing program to and from treatment for people with cancer who do not have a ride or are unable to drive themselves; Look Good...Feel Better, a free program that teaches people who are in active cancer treatment ways to help them with appearance-related side effects; Hope Lodge, offering cancer patients and their families a free, temporary place to stay when the best treatment is far from home; and Reach to Recovery, a program that lets you talk one-on-one with a trained breast cancer volunteer, who is also a breast cancer survivor, about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

These programs and information on every aspect of the cancer experience, from prevention to survivorship, are available free of charge when you call our Cancer Resource Connection at (800) 227-2345, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in multiple languages."

Like Gutierrez, Partida has a personal bone to pick with cancer.

"I've lost three grandparents to cancer: my dad's parents, here in California, and my mother's mother in Nicaragua," she explained. "My paternal grandparents didn't speak English and didn't drive. I'm certain that these patient program services would have come in handy while my family was dealing and coming to terms with their diagnoses had we known about them.

"I've made it a personal mission to make sure that I spread the word about our programs so families can be armed with the knowledge that they don't have to go through the cancer process alone."

Partida also Relays "to support the countless volunteers and participants I have the privilege of getting to know as we work together to fight cancer. I am inspired and motivated by my volunteers, who give so much of themselves to help plan these events, year after year."

Her immediate goal is to have more people join the planning committee. Individuals or companies wanting to sponsor or donate items, as well as anyone wishing to perform at the event or seeking more information about participating, should call Partida at (310) 348-0357, Ext. 227 or email her at

Another Jessica with an active role in the Culver City Relay is Jessica Basista, who shared a painful memory: When she was in middle school her beloved grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.

"She was misdiagnosed for years so her cancer was already in advanced stages when it was discovered," she said. "I was beside myself since I considered her my second mother. I have the fondest memories of watching her perform on stage and having sleepovers at her house, when we would bang pots and pans around the house singing '76 Trombones' from The Music Man."

Basista's younger sister, Alexis, also active in Relay, was only seven when she discovered the fate of the grandmother whom she so loved and was charmed by, her favorite childhood memories being of the Monday night dinners when the grandparents would come over and read a story to her after dinner.

"After years of chemo, my grandmother's tenacity was not enough and the cancer won out when I was in high school and Alexis was in the third grade," Basista said.

"It was so hard for me to watch my heroine deteriorate and become an incoherent human hunched and blinded from the chemo and pain medication. This woman I admired and watched perform and captivate audiences was now more like a helpless creature I couldn't have a conversation with. It was even hard for me to visit her and I felt guilty that I didn't."

As the grieving family mourned, their thoughts coalesced around ways they could help fight and find a cure.

"My mother found out about Relay for Life and decided she should start a team, and encouraged my four sisters and me to start teams as well," said Basista. "It was so wonderful to be able to feel like I was helping progress cancer research.

" It was such a wonderful community feeling and it was so touching to hear the hopeful survivors in remission. They are the lucky ones, and my grandmother still might have been here today had she not been misdiagnosed for years. But, hopefully, with each Relay we are one step closer to finding a cure for cancer so no one will lose another loved one to this disease."

Alexis added that she "enjoyed Relay for Life very much. I think it is a great event that brings communities together. It is positive and full of plenty of fun activities that help inform and raise money for cancer research and programs. Like Jessica said, it makes everyone feel like they are helping get one step closer to a cure."

(Sandra Coopersmith, a cancer survivor who benefited from several ACS services, will also be lacing up her walking shoes and participating in this event.)


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