Relay for Life, a community fundraising event for the American Cancer Society (ACS), is coming back to Santee for 24 hours on May 14-15 to "celebrate people who have cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease."
The event is open to everyone and packs a lot of fun, inspiration, information, love and more into 24 hours. Last year's had over 750 participants and raised $52,978 for ACS, and they plan on topping that number this year.
Dawn Gibbs was instrumental in bringing the Relay for Life to Santee in 2000. Gibbs said she utilized the network of information available through ACS the day she learned she had cancer, so she had accurate information to talk with her doctor about when deciding what kind of treatment she would receive. Improving access to that kind of information is one of her big motivations in fundraising for ACS.
In fact, it's a part of her life's work, as owner of , a therapy center and boutique for women located on Mission Gorge Road: "A place for the woman that is dealing with a diagnosis of cancer."
According to Gibbs, for every dollar raised at the Relay, 39 cents stays in California for direct patient services and programs, 32 cents go to national programs, 15 cents goes to grants for research, and the rest goes to fundraising and administration.
"The ACS has been a part of every major cancer breakthrough in the last 50 years," said Gibbs.
In 1999, there were three Relay for Life events in San Diego County; now there are 32.
"I think a lot of people think it's just another run—'I get a T-shirt and I run.' It's not! You learn, have fun, there are tearful and inspirational moments. ... No matter what you're looking for, it's there," said Nancy McDaniel, a committee member for the Santee Relay.
The Santee Firefighters and Friends Relay Team is one of the most active participants in the event. Not only do they traditionally raise more than $10,000 for the cause, they're a big part of the fun at the event, providing a lot of the entertainment for the kids. Team Captain Jeff Hernandez said a big reason the team is so devoted to the cause is because firefighters are exposed to many carcinogens in the line of duty, which raises the possibility that they may come down with cancer sometime in their life.
The Santee Firefighters and Friends Team is partnering with the Santee on Monday and Tuesday. and 15 percent of the check will go to the team's fundraising efforts. They will also sponsor a Poker Night fundraising event at Viejas on May 9.
"During last year's Relay, I was being treated for cancer," said Santee Fire Captain Rick Williams. "To see what other survivors had gone through and hear their stories, it gave me light and hope and understanding about what I was going through, that I wasn't alone. There's a lot out there through the ACS," he said.
"One day, one night, one community, one fight" is the rallying cry for the fundraiser, and to the folks heading the event, community is the key word.
If you want to participate, it can be as easy as just coming down to anytime during the Relay for Life on May 14-15. It's a 24-hour event, but you can come for as little or as much of it as you'd like. If you really want to get into the event, you can volunteer or raise money in a number of ways. As a survivor, you can connect with the other survivors, caregivers and the community, form a team to really raise some money, or become a sponsor for a team.
"We have teams that do the fundraising; you don't necessarily need to fundraise. Come. It's life changing," said Gibbs.
See the videos in the media box to hear from the participants and organizers why the event is important, why you should attend, and to get an idea of what happens at the event.