Walking a trail of hope

Erin Slatter, 12, Julia Patereau, 7, and Alexi Slattery, also 7,

Gilroy
– More than 100 cancer survivors dressed in purple T-shirts
with

HOPE

printed across the front took off on the first lap around a
make-shift track at the ranch side of Christmas Hill Park as part
of the Eighth Annual Relay For Life. And, more than 1,000 community
members spent 24 hours walking towards that common goal.
As a six-year cancer survivor, Rebecca Sanfilippo said last year
she was touched by the camaraderie she felt with other people
who’ve beat cancer.
Gilroy – More than 100 cancer survivors dressed in purple T-shirts with “HOPE” printed across the front took off on the first lap around a make-shift track at the ranch side of Christmas Hill Park as part of the Eighth Annual Relay For Life. And, more than 1,000 community members spent 24 hours walking towards that common goal.

As a six-year cancer survivor, Rebecca Sanfilippo said last year she was touched by the camaraderie she felt with other people who’ve beat cancer.

“Most people don’t want to talk about it. They’re afraid of getting it, like you can catch it like a cold,” Sanfilippo said.

It is the second year Sanfilippo, part of the 60-member Black Bear Diner team, has been involved in the Relay For Life. The restaurant customer signed up to walk one hour at 10pm and she was amazed at the support of the community.

“The generosity of the community is overwhelming,” Sanfilippo said. “A lot of volunteer hours go into this.”

Throughout the year Gilroy clubs, businesses and even individual residents put together teams for the annual 24 hour walk which celebrates survivors and remembers those lost to cancer while raising money for the American Cancer Society.

Eda Stimac, who has been cancer free since January 2005, agreed with Sanfilippo.

“It’s very important to show that there are survivors,” Stimac said. “So many people cringe at the word, the big “C,” because so many people just don’t see the survivors.”

Cancer survivors participated in the event for free without being a member of a team, but many of them choose to take a shift on the 24 hour walk and raise money.

Mark McPherson who received the all clear on his cancer in March said he was out for two reasons, to celebrate his survival but also to remember a friend lost to cancer this year.

“This is an emotional year,” McPherson said. “It’s given me a chance to think about things, putting life into perspective.”

McPherson’s team, Ruth’s Dalmatians, named in honor of Ruth Slechta, led off the team lap. Slechta was a long-time team captain and also served on the Relay For Life committee before she died of cancer this year. Each team member wore a baseball cap with floppy black dog ears attached.

As the teams marched past, the mix of people, of different ethnicities, genders and income levels showed that cancer really does not discriminate. Each group, many teams dressed in matching T-shirts or ball caps, held up banners and signs decorated with their team name.

The “Frogs Leap for a Cure” team, donning sponge-painted T-shirts with their team name and froggy mascot, included plenty of youngsters.

Alex Cabreros, 13, raised $100 from sponsors and recruited plenty of her friends to join her team.

“It’s really important to help find a cure for cancer,” Cabreros said. She and several other friends signed up to walk a whopping 12 hours during the event.

“It’s also really fun,” admitted McCann, of the 24-hour camp out with her friends.

Like many of the other teams, the frogs are still raising money for their team. Lemonade was going for 50 cents a cup and they had small pails with seeds for $5. Going along with the theme of their name, for a dollar donors also had a chance to win a water frog by guessing how many rocks were in a fish bowl.

Other teams came together in honor of community members who have lost the battle with cancer. Team captains and sisters Deanna Franklin and Lisa Shaffer put forth a joint effort with their teams. Shaffer is a co-owner of Strandz Hair Salon and Franklin is an employee of South Valley National Bank.

The team is walking in honor of eight employees or close family members of employees who have died of cancer, including Richard Nicholls whose wife Brigitte works at the bank. Nicholls, a long time organizer of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, died of cancer June 15.

“Looking around you see everyone here is here for a common goal,” Franklin said. “And these people are going to be here for 24 hours. I’m honored to be a part of it.”

So far Gilroy has raised $46,428 as of June 15, although teams have until August to collect money and many teams haven’t added up their donations

Donate to a Relay For Life team online at http://www.acsevents.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=95324. For more information on participating in the 2006 Relay For Life, e-mail [email protected] or call 879-1032.

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