Community members gathered to celebrate survivors, remember loved ones and fight back against cancer during at on Saturday.
Participants began walking around Hill Creek’s field at 10 a.m. on Saturday and plan to continue walking until 10 a.m. Sunday to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Wearing purple shirts and medals, survivors kicked off the first lap after doves were released to begin the event. Supporters cheered from the sidelines as they walked to Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.”
Spring Valley resident Yvonne Chavez watched as her friend and his son joined the other survivors. Her friend's son, now 8 years old, was born with cancer. It was his first time walking in , Chavez said.
“We’re out here to support him,” she said. “We just want to let him know that we care and that we’re backing him up.”
Other Relay for Life participants began walking once the survivors completed their first lap.
Anne Daugherty and her 9-year-old son, Spencer Daugherty, walked with their team, Pat's Pals, named for the team captain’s mother-in-law, a cancer survivor.
Daugherty said she and her son also came to remember their loved ones who have died from cancer.
“I think it brings the community together, and I think it’s really important to bring the awareness,” she said.
There were 24 teams at the start of the event and more than 30 throughout the day. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event.
Some teams represented a loved one, like Pat's Pals. Other teams represented local schools and organizations. With 55 team members, the is the largest participating team, according to the Relay for Life Santee website.
Miss Santee 2011 Maria Maes headed her own team, Smiles for the Cure.
“It’s so important to give back to find a cure, because I know we can do it, if we all work together,” said the West Hills High School senior.
Maes lost her father to cancer almost two years ago. She said Relay for Life is a “very supportive” environment.
“You find so many people with the same story,” she said. “Everybody knows they’re here for the same cause.”
In addition to raising funds, Event Chair Dawn Gibbs said bringing community members together is another purpose of Relay for Life.
“There are cancer survivors that are having the same types of treatment, going through the same thing, only different. There are people that have lost loved ones,” she said. “All of a sudden, you find a connection.”
Gibbs helped bring the annual event to Santee in 2000. In 1999, there were three Relay for Life events in San Diego County. This year, there are 32.
Relay for Life Santee has grown each year, Gibbs explained. Last year, the American Cancer Society set a $40,000 goal. The event had more than 750 participants and raised more than $52,000.
Before the first lap had even begun Saturday morning, Gibbs announced that participants had already raised $39,000.
“One day, one night, one community and one fight,” said Gibbs at the Opening Ceremony. “When I look at the participants here today, the word ‘community’ resonates with me. That’s what it’s all about for the next 24 hours.”
Close to 400 people had already registered at the start of the event. Gibbs said she expects more than 1,000 people to participate throughout the day to help raise $53,000, which is this year’s goal.
During the Opening Ceremony, Councilmember and greeted and thanked the participants for raising awareness and funds to fight cancer.
Minto explained that his mother died from cancer in 2005. Less than a year later, his father was also diagnosed with cancer. Although he was told, “There’s not a lot of hope,” he is a survivor, Minto said.
Wearing a purple shirt, Jones recalled the rainy December day he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer 14 years ago.
“The activities that you folks are doing today are going to help eliminate all kinds of cancer from the face of the Earth,” Jones said. “I thank you—for the cancer that I had being one of the first ones that has been 100 percent treatable and can’t come back.”
Relay for Life participants gathered to celebrate survivors, remember loved ones and fight back against cancer, but Gibbs, also a cancer survivor, added one more task: to hope.
“Celebrate, remember, fight back, hope—that’s the message,” she said. “We could not make that walk around this track without hope.”