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Get your passport ready for Relay For Life

Tenth annual fundraiser for cancer research will run for 24 hours next weekend at Central Park

Posted: May 25, 2008 2:17 a.m.
Updated: July 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
They arrive with walking shoes and sunscreen, coolers and tents.

Most come in specially designed T-shirts, each displaying their own personal reason for supporting the event.

Some tote chemo pumps and walkers.

All of them journey to Relay For Life with the heartfelt desire to see cancer eventually cured, or at least become a manageable disease that spares its victims.

Of course, they're also there to celebrate life, honor those who have lost their cancer battles, and have a uniquely memorable time at an upbeat outdoor philanthropic gathering.

For the thousands who attend "A Passport to Hope" in Central Park on Saturday, May 31, all will discover the magic and inspiration that Relay offers.

Starting at 9 a.m. and lasting for 24 hours, the American Cancer Society Santa Clarita Valley Unit's 10th annual Relay For Life promises to be a blockbuster this year. Already, its aim of reaching 100 teams has been surpassed.

Hopefully, the goal of bringing in $500,000 will be exceeded, too (up from $478,000 in 2007).

The ACS' signature fundraiser, Relay For Life brings the community together in the battle against cancer, said Candy Spahr, who, along with Teresa Kerr and John Fortman, is tri-chairing the event.

"Our Relay in Santa Clarita will be one of the over 5,200 events throughout the world this year, so not only is this a community that comes together but it is even bigger than that - it is a ‘world' that gets behind the fight against cancer," said Spahr, whose husband and several other family members have battled the disease.

Monies raised through Relay help fund cutting-edge cancer research (conducted by peer-reviewed scientists, many of whom are Nobel laureates), and provide many free programs and services to people facing cancer, as well as education and advocacy.

Relay For Life Santa Clarita has statistically been one of the largest fundraisers in this community (and one of the most cost-effective overall), Spahr said.

"We, as a committee, recognize the importance of every dollar raised and are proud to say that 91 percent of the money we raise goes to research, education, free patient services and advocacy," she said, adding that the SCV community has thus far raised more than $3 million in its Relay efforts.

What's it about?

As this is a Relay For Life, there are teams with individuals taking turns walking or running laps, with each fund-raising team keeping at least one member on the track at all times.

There's also plenty of camaraderie, live music, food and activities - and a survivor walk (first lap during opening ceremonies; all cancer survivors in this community are invited) and a nighttime luminaria ceremony (to honor and remember those who have been affected by cancer).

There will also be stirring speeches and lots of free, invaluable cancer information.

There will be games, prizes and exciting raffles. And last but not least, there's Survivor Village, which is sponsored this year by Subaru of Sherman Oaks. At the village, cancer survivors and caregivers will have 24-hour availability of activities, speakers and information on legislation and patient services.

Relay Team Recruitment Chair Brandi Newquist, a three-time cancer survivor currently undergoing cancer treatments again, declares Relay to be about celebrating survivorship - and realizing you are not alone in this battle.

"It's empowering to be surrounded by an entire community promoting awareness and raising money for one common goal - to eliminate cancer," she said.

Cancer-free future
In 2007, more than 1.4 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer, and more than 559,000 died from the disease.

To help curb this suffering, improved research is greatly needed.

Seeking better prevention and cures, the American Cancer Society's Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research is recruiting 500,000 adults across the United States and Puerto Rico for a new study. Called the Cancer Prevention Study (3), or CPS-3, the project is aimed at better identifying the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that cause or prevent the disease.

Lucky for us, Santa Clarita Relay has been selected as a CPS-3 recruitment site. Signups for the long-term study will take place during Relay on Saturday, May 31 from 3:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. If you are between the ages of 30-65, have never been diagnosed with cancer (not including basal or squamous cell skin cancer) and are willing to make a long-term commitment to the program, then consider joining this research endeavor.

Donna Ashmore of the UCLA Santa Clarita Cancer Center will oversee Relays' CPS-3 registration.

"Enrollment is easy," Ashmore said, adding, "I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to do this."

During the initial sign-up process at Relay, eligible participants will be asked to read and sign a consent form, complete a brief survey, provide a waist measurement and give a small blood sample (a couple tablespoons taken by a certified phlebotomist). Later at home, they will complete a more detailed survey asking for information about lifestyle, behavioral and other factors that influence health.

In the future, periodic two-year follow-up surveys requesting updates on each participant's information will be mailed out.

"Our valley has always come together for special causes and stepped up to the plate each time. This is a very important plate to step up to," Ashmore said.

The historic CPS-3 is a long-term study of about 20-30 years that will ultimately answer key questions we all have about cancer, she said.

"I've worked in oncology for 25 years here in the Santa Clarita Valley and people ask me all the time, ‘What can we do to help?' Well, this is a big one," the veteran nurse stated. "We need to look at what causes cancer and what we can do to reduce our risks. We have been playing catch-up with treating the disease and we need to find what we can do to protect ourselves and our families."

First lap/luminaria
Open to all cancer survivors (whether in treatment or remission), the Honorary Survivor Walk begins around 9 a.m. on Saturday May 31, shortly after opening ceremonies get underway. During that emotional first lap, hundreds of cancer survivors victoriously walk together, wearing their much-prized cancer survivor medals.

That evening, a Luminaria Ceremony takes place, bringing everyone together in a most unforgettable setting. The poignant service, which pays tribute to those who have lost their battle with cancer, honors survivors and offers gratitude to caregivers, is highlighted by music, speeches and a communal walk around the luminaria-lit path. (A luminaria is a bag with a small glowing candle inside; each bag bears the name of a person who has been affected by cancer. Luminaria bag contributions help fund the ACS's fight against cancer.)

The music plays on
Live entertainment is always a popular feature of Relay For Life, and at "A Passport to Hope," every musical fancy will be pleased.

Unfortunately, though, this year's Relay music must go on without its own Music Chair, for talented musician and humanitarian John Parker lost his own battle with liver cancer on March 30.

A masterful blues musician, Parker played with the group Forced Call - even during the most difficult stages of his disease.

Before he passed, however, Parker, also an ACS Legislative Ambassador and president of the SCV Blues Society, looked beyond his own plight. He selflessly made sure the Santa Clarita Valley's 10th annual Relay would be rocking with or without him.

In the wake of Parker's death, his wife, Lynn Parker, ensures us that her husband's "show" will go on.

Just as John Parker planned, Relay's diverse line-up of performers will include: Fiddlesticks and Ivory Plus - jazz; Untwined - rock; Lock in the Second Life - rock; Kyle Culkin Band - contemporary blues rock; Jeff Jensen Band - blues/R&B; Toni Dodd and Southbound Blues - blues; Michael John and the Bottom Line - blues; Alan Wright Band - blues rock; Laurie Morvan Band - contemporary blues rock; Teresa James - R&B; Paulie Cerra - R&B; Cody LePow - acoustic blues.

(Lynn Parker notes that Santa Clarita resident Teresa James, who performs during Saturday evening's luminaria ceremony, has been nominated the Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year.)

Have hope, will relay
As "A Passport to Hope" gets closer, ACS committee members (all volunteers) are busy with the final touches. They're working night and day to make this Relay the most fun-filled and successful local ACS fundraiser ever.

Between bringing in team money, polishing the details and getting people enlightened about the CPS-3, things are looking especially good for that mission.

If you would like to join the Relay cause, be at Central Park in Saugus on May 31.

Teresa Kerr reminds us of why that involvement is so important: "Relay gives you the power to help accelerate the American Cancer Society's advancement toward a future where cancer doesn't take the lives of our friends and family."

Now that's what "A Passport to Hope" is all about.

For more information about Relay For Life, go to or call (661) 298-0886 (option 3). For more information about the CPS-3 study go to


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