Relay For Life lights the way | July 4, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - July 4, 2008

Relay For Life lights the way

All-night walk around track echoes the battle against cancer - a disease that never sleeps

by Meghan Neal

A glowing sea of paper bags illuminated by candles lit in honor or in memory of a loved one who has battled cancer will surround the track at Monte Vista High School on July 19.

The luminaria ceremony at dusk will begin Danville and Alamo's first Relay For Life event, an annual worldwide fundraiser put on by the American Cancer Society.

Hundreds will stay up all night, taking turns walking or jogging around the school track. From 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. at least one person will be on the track at all times, representing the resolve to fight a disease that doesn't sleep.

"It's a time to really say, you know, enough is enough. It's affected enough people," said relay manager Kelli Nahas. "We're going to be up all night fighting with them, showing them, this is just a glimpse of what you go through but we're right there with you."

The event is like a big sleepover party, with a twist. Manned with tents, sleeping bags and a common goal, participants spend the night either on the track or hanging out back at camp, sharing stories and experiences.

"It has sort of a festival feel, a community campout type style," Nahas said.

The participants are broken down into teams, typically of seven to 15 people. Since this is first year Danville has hosted its own relay, organizers expect to see around 20 teams. Past events have taken place at San Ramon Valley High School or California High School, encompassing the greater Valley area.

As soon as participants sign up, they hit the ground running - raising funds, that is - by spreading the word through co-workers, friends and family. The goal is to raise $25,000 from the Danville-Alamo event.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society's No. 1 fundraising event. Year-round, all over the world, people come together at local schools or parks to hit the track and fight the disease.

Nahas said the grassroots nature of the event is what makes it so successful. Each relay is individualized to the small town or community where it's held. And each participant is "a huge piece of the pie, and can make a huge difference."

"You're fighting for people you know, for your neighbors," she said. "It's an amazing thing to witness, seeing that much passion."

Some people choose to run, others just stroll and chat. If you can't walk, rock - in past events people in poor health have pulled rocking chairs up to the track so they could participate, Nahas said.

In the down time, there's plenty of entertainment. Officer Mike Ireland from the Danville Police Department plans to make a special appearance at the event and show off his police canine. America's Best Karate also will put on a demonstration.

Teams often sell food, bracelets, quilts or other items during the event to raise extra funds, said Nahas.

"We're trying to get people excited about it and businesses involved," she said. "We think it's going to be a great, amazing thing for the community."

There are three overlaying themes of the event: celebrate, remember and fight back.

Participants "celebrate" during the survivor's lap. In this ceremony, those that have fought and beat the disease join together to circle the track.

The luminaria ceremony is a chance to "remember" loved ones lost, and to signify the light of hope even in the darkest moments of a difficult struggle.

"This light is kind of our way of saying, 'There's hope still.' People are fighting for these names on the bag, they're fighting with the names on the bag," Nahas said.

"Fight back" is the parting message and the theme of the closing ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Participants make a pledge to fight back against the disease 365 days a year.

People are encouraged to volunteer, help spread cancer awareness and education, or become a political advocate.

"It can be a personal thing or it can be something you do large scale," Nahas said. "But we're asking everyone to do something.

"Everyone has a story of someone they know and that's really why we do it. A majority of the population has been affected by cancer and it really needs to not be like that. We are fighting tooth and nail against this disease."

Join the fight

What: Relay for Life

When: 9 p.m.-9 a.m., July 19-20

What: Raise funds and cancer awareness

Who: American Cancer Society

To join: Signups will be taken until the day of the relay; call 817-9084 or visit