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Ukiah Daily Journal
Mild, late-June sunshine blessed Ukiah’s 13th annual Relay for Life Saturday, when individuals and teams walk the Ukiah High School track to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
The event is in its 26th year nationally. There were 48 teams in the local relay this year, including 285 participants and 70 cancer survivors who rallied to “celebrate, remember and fight back,” as survivor Kirollos “Cookie” Gendi encouraged participants to do during his opening remarks.
Gendi told the gathered crowd of his own cancer diagnosis at age 9, following a fall that left him in pain and his doctor wondering why his shin bone had decalcified. The battery of tests that followed led to the news that Gendi had stage-1 Ewing sarcoma.
“I looked at my parents … and it was like they were hit by a bus,” he said. “They’d always been able to protect me, to pick me up when I scraped my knee or burned my elbow or whatever. But with cancer, they just felt so powerless, so hopeless.”
He endured chemotherapy for a year, underwent surgery on his leg and had a third treatment he described as “all of the support and the love that I had from my friends and family.”
Gendi continued, “One of the big issues with cancer is that you think it’s going to take over your life … that I no longer am the dorky third-grader Cookie;” I am cancer patient XY234. But with having such great family and friends, I haven’t felt that at all. I was still the dorky kid brother, my
friends still came over to play video games with me; and having that support really made all the difference for me.”
He went on to applaud the care givers, family, friends, survivors and other volunteers who make up Relay for Life for being that third support system for cancer patients.
“I’ve met so many survivors who thought they were on their own,” Gendi said. “Then they came to Relay and they found out that they are part of a huge team who is fighting (cancer).”
The events started with a survivor lap, during which a group of purple-clad cancer survivors started off in one direction around the track while their care givers started off in the opposite direction, then the care givers met their survivors and finished the lap with them.
Survivor Rose Warner of Ukiah walked the track hand-in-hand with her adult son, Jeff Gaston of Fort Bragg. Their reason for joining the relay, as with many other attendees, was bittersweet. They were celebrating Warner’s survival of the bladder cancer she was diagnosed with five years ago, and remembering Gaston’s girlfriend’s sister, who had succumbed to cancer.
Event co-chairwoman Kaylie Graves got involved three years ago looking for a way to give back.
“The week I decided to become involved, my friend was diagnosed with cancer,” Graves said. Her aunt had survived cancer, but her friend died in April 2011.
“It was just one of those aha’ moments, a reaffirmation of what I was doing,” she said.
The event kicked off at 10 a.m. Saturday, with teams and individuals walking the track all day, and the walkers were scheduled to continue until 10 a.m. today.
The relay also included the “Miss Relay Pageant” for men, Zumba with Studio Fit, dinner courtesy of the South Ukiah Rotary Club, all-night camping on the lawn for the participants, a “Team Spirit” lap and the nighttime lighting of the luminaria around the track to remember those who had died from cancer, honor survivors and light the way for the walkers.
To reach the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, call 462-7642.
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @TiffanyRevelle or at 468-3523.