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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 10:39 EDT

Walking to Cure Cancer

June 18, 2008

By Susan Schell, The Peninsula Gateway, Gig Harbor, Wash.

Jun. 18–The track at Goodman Middle School will be well used this weekend. Hordes of people will circle the field Friday night and into Saturday afternoon in a symbolic effort to stamp out a modern-day monster: cancer. The annual Relay for Life, which raises funds for cancer research and other related programs, will kick off at 6 p.m. Friday with the traditional survivor’s lap.

“This is the fourth year at Goodman, and we’ll have a lot of activities for the kids and adults,” said Pam Massey, chair of the event. “It’s got a real grass field for us to set our tents up on. This year’s theme will be ‘Take your favorite movie.’ Our team’s theme is ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’ We say we’ll be sleepless in Gig Harbor until we find a cure.”

Massey’s team, which includes 15 members, represents Alexei Salon.

Massey said there will be a bounce house and face painting for children, and Shriner clowns will make balloons. Entertainment will include music over the public-address system and live bagpipers.

The Peninsula High School choir will sing during the luminary ceremony.

Fifth-grader Joshua Alfaro of Harbor Montessori School will deliver a speech during the ceremony. Alfaro was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2005.

After undergoing treatment for three years, Alfaro recently finished his final treatment in March.

“He has participated in one (Relay for Life) every year since he’s been diagnosed,” said Joshua’s mother, Darice Alfaro. “He’s the co-captain of his team and was instrumental in getting the team together. This will be his first relay free of cancer.”

The 11-year-old said he doesn’t plan to sleep during the night.

“There will be music, people talking while we’re walking around the track, and people coming to our tent and looking around,” Alfaro said. “We might rest a little, but we won’t sleep.”

“Relay people are fantastic,” Massey said. “We have a disease to beat into submission, so we have a passion for this.”

The event attracts local sponsors, from large corporations to smaller businesses.

Dr. Richard Coyner, a dentist who has a practice on Pioneer Way, was the Gig Harbor relay’s first corporate sponsor. He lost his father to cancer at age 51.

“Small businesses like ours don’t have the big budgets, so it’s nice to be contributing,” Coyner said. “When your name is up there with MultiCare and Franciscan, it’s a big deal. So many people have been affected by cancer, whether it’s your grandparents, sisters or friends. And you never know when that contribution might help you.”

Next year will mark the Relay for Life’s 25th anniversary. The concept began in Tacoma in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal cancer surgeon at the University of Puget Sound, spent 24 hours circling a track and invited people to sponsor and join him on his walk to raise money to fight cancer.

He raised $27,000 in one night.

The idea caught on and, in 1992, it was established as the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event, said Elizabeth Lamb-Ferro, communications manager for the local chapter.

“That’s when we got on the bandwagon and started making this a real community event,” Lamb-Ferro said. “You can see the funds coming back in our quality-of-life programs.”

Some of those programs include the “road to recovery,” during which volunteers drive patients to and from their chemotherapy sessions.

“Right after going to chemotherapy, you don’t exactly feel like driving,” Lamb-Ferro said.

“Reach to recovery” partners women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer with women mentors who are cancer survivors. Those mentors can offer them moral support and companionship outside a doctor’s office.

The “look good, feel better” program focuses on teaching cancer sufferers how to deal with cosmetic issues, such as hair loss or changes in skin complexion.

The Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy will also host a Relay for Life for the sixth consecutive year. Prison volunteer Dana Carroll said 250 inmates and 50 dignitaries will walk around an oval track for 12 hours on Saturday.

“Each year it gets a little smoother,” she said. “They have raised over $40,000 since (the relay’s) inception.”

Prison volunteer and employee June Wolfe, who had cancer and lost a daughter to the disease, drummed up the interest in the Relay for Life at the correctional center. She succumbed to the disease herself after seeing her efforts come to fruition.

“The money these ladies raise only comes from the crafts they sell, or (from) working here in the institution,” Carroll said. “You never have a say in how it (cancer) affects you. This is a way of giving back.”

Relay for Life of Gig Harbor

For more information about this weekend’s relay, visit www.relayforlifeofgigharbor.com

Time: Starts at 6 p.m. Friday and continues until noon Saturday.

Place: Goodman Middle School, 3701 38th Ave. NW, in Gig Harbor.

Reach reporter Susan Schell at 253-853-9240 or by e-mail at susan.schell@gateline.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Peninsula Gateway, Gig Harbor, Wash.

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