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Making strides in war on cancer

Relay bonds hundreds in inspiration, celebration
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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The English family walks to honor their almost 4-year-old daughter. Jackie Dow walks because she can. And the 200 or so people who joined them walked to show their support. More than 200 people participated in Auburn’s Relay for Life celebration, which took place at Placer High School from 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday. The event Relay for Life is a 24-hour event held to represent those who have battled cancer. The event lasts for 24 hours to signify how there is no end to the disease, and so participants can understand that someone who has cancer lives with it on a continual basis. Participants usually come in teams of 10 and take turns walking a track for the duration of the event. Three main themes drove this year’s event: celebrate and remember those who have lost their fight against cancer, draw inspiration from survivors and fight back. “Each of us has the opportunity to save a life,” said Kim Lightfoot, Relay for Life event chair. Lightfoot said the committee is asking people to make a commitment to protect themselves from cancer. Commitments range from vowing to wear sunscreen everyday and exercising often, to eating right and going to regularly scheduled mammograms. “Simple things like that can help us fight cancer,” Lightfoot said. Some teams set up camp Friday night while others piled onto Placer High School’s track early Saturday morning. The event included several theme laps such as the Hawaiian lap, the Poker Run lap and the Black and White Ball lap. There was also a Luminaria Ceremony Saturday evening during which white bags lined along the track were lit to remember those with cancer. During the midnight hours, Lightfoot said the committee planned lighthearted events such as a model contest during which participants had to create an outfit using only new and old Relay for Life T-shirts. “While cancer is serious, this event is about bringing together the community and really lifting our spirits,” Lightfoot said. Money from the event goes to the American Cancer Society to pay for services in the Auburn area. Services include transportation for locals to chemotherapy sessions. The proceeds also go toward funding the Look Good, Feel Better program, which helps beautify women who have cancer. Lightfoot said the program is looking for Auburn area businesses to participate. Lightfoot was one of many at the event who has personally been impacted by cancer. Last year she and her husband lost Lightfoot’s mother-in-law to lung cancer. Since then, the Relay has had an even more profound impact, Lightfoot said. “My husband and I truly believe this is how we remember her,” Lightfoot said. ‘Flat is beautiful’ Auburn resident Jackie Dow was one of the cancer survivors at the event. Dow had a mastectomy on her right side after she was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. Dow’s doctor discovered the cancer during a routine mammogram. After recovering “very nicely,” she was able to return to her daily activities, including her involvement in the Sierra Gold Chorus. She said she has been able to infuse humor into her medical condition. One of her fellow chorus members made her a paper breast. She then made up a playful song about wearing the paper breast. But as she continued hormone treatments, she began to worry about the cancer returning in the other breast. She decided to have her left breast removed two years after she recovered from cancer. “Now I’m perfectly flat, perfectly happy and perfectly comfortable,” Dow said. “I have no interest in reconstruction. I never was perfect in the first place.” In honor of her decision, she had a T-shirt made that states, “Flat is beautiful.” Now, she has breast mold that she wears if she chooses. “Everyday I wake up and I can say, ‘boobs or no boobs today?’” Dow said. While she now feels cancer-free, Dow said, for her, the impact of the disease has not diminished. “I know many people who have cancer but it’s always different when it hits you,” Dow said. “It has a different meaning now.” ‘Our own reasons to Relay’ One Auburn family was there to continue to honor their daughter, Danielle, who passed away in January 1996. Danielle was almost 4 years old when she lost her life to a rare form of leukemia, said Denise English, Danielle’s mother. The English family was joined Saturday by a large group of family and close family friends to take turns walking the track. “Our camp is full of kids,” English said, laughing. Members sported bright pink garb with the team’s name “Marrow Menders” blazoned across their T-shirts. They also took turns holding a black umbrella with several plastic bones hanging from it. The team hopes to increase the number of donors on the bone marrow registry. English and her husband, Ed, said bone marrow donors are important because their daughter needed a transplant, but it was extremely difficult to find a match. While Danielle was undergoing chemotherapy treatments, English was pregnant with her son, who ended up being a perfect bone marrow match for Danielle. Unfortunately, her son’s marrow could not be administered to Danielle in time. “Our mission now is to honor her and raise awareness to get people on the bone registry,” Denise English said. English said there are others on the Marrow Menders team who have lost a loved one to cancer. “All of us started in our group for Danielle,” Denise English said, “but now we all have our own reasons to Relay.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.