Clayton community unites against cancer in 24-hour Relay for Life
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Just because a question has been asked and answered doesn't mean it isn't worth asking again. If you could walk around a little league baseball field and save your mom, dad, sister, brother, child, aunt, uncle, grandparent, best friend, neighbor, colleague -- or even a stranger -- from the clutches of cancer, would you do it?
Beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, more than 200 people will be saying "yes" with their feet at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life at Clayton Community Park.
And the affirmative, marching response won't cease until 24 hours later, when a "fight back" closing ceremony symbolizes participants' intention to "keep walking" year-round in the battle to eradicate the devastating disease.
Relay for Life's worldwide events raise funds for cancer research. In 1985, Tacoma, Wash., resident Dr. Gordy Klatt ran and walked a track alone, raising $27,000 to fight the second-most common cause of death in the United States.
Cancer is predicted to take the lives of 580,350 Americans in 2013. From one man's solo pedestrian protest, an orchestra of survivors, patients, and caring communities walk annually in concert to save lives.
The global movement organizes local teams. Leaders camp out overnight to keep someone walking throughout the event. Food and games build rapport and people join for one lap -- or 100. Nonambulatory people use wheeled devices and a "Second Life" program joins "virtual walkers" in 3-D, online worlds.
But attending in person offers an opportunity to witness the golden glow of luminaria lighting the way at sundown to commemorate loved ones lost to cancer. Or to share in the unified, life-affirming energy of a human collective gathered to conquer an opponent. Or to applaud the "survivor's lap" that begins each location's event.
Brenda Righter was the event chairwoman for Clayton's inaugural Relay in 2011. Soon after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Righter sought ways to honor her mother through community involvement. In 2012 and again this year, she has served as Clayton's team recruitment chair.
"It doesn't take much to be part of the solution but it means so very much to so very many (people)," she says.
People like Christy Harris.
Courage comes in many forms and lately, it springs from the invincible heart of Harris, a 49-year-old mother of three children, ages 14, 17 and 20. The former Chevron marketing employee, content stay-at-home mom, vigorous rescuer of books (Harris and her husband of 23 years, Joel, owned and operated Clayton Bookstore from 2007-2010), and cancer warrior, is leader of "Team Christy."
After giving herself a "birthday hysterectomy" in March 2012 to eliminate troublesome cysts and protect her from possible genetic tendencies evidenced by family members who have succumbed to or survived bouts with cancer, Harris thought she was "home free."
Instead, March's relief turned to November's bitterest pill when a "crick" in her hip turned out to be a large, complex tumor.
"How could a sore leg have become something so absurd?" Harris asks.
She has traveled an unexpected, surreal path. After four surgeries, chemotherapy, and 27 days of radiation, her cancer has not "disappeared" and has only tentatively moved from "undifferentiated" to "possibly ovarian."
She's continuing to fight: enduring as much chemo as she can take, following a sugar-restrictive diet to slow the cancer's growth and mounting the bully pulpit of research.
"I'm offended that the doctors tell me I will not make 50. I can't sit around and do nothing," she says. "I am on an unknown timeline. I don't want this to happen to my daughter -- or to anyone's mother, sister, brother, father."
Last year, Harris walked the relay at a friend's invitation, never suspecting she would become the namesake of a team. And in a feat that would only surprise people unfamiliar with the Harris family's generous, fun-loving nature, her team has raised more than $20,000 in just three weeks.
Righter says the number of walkers and the funds raised by Team Christy in such a short time is unprecedented and understandably bittersweet. The amounts are welcome; the support is what matters.
"Some journeys are simply not meant to be taken alone," she says. "Even if a person (buys) a one dollar raffle ticket, that person is a part of the team that will end the ravages of cancer."
On Aug. 3-4, Christy's Team will include an eclectic mix: San Francisco Giant's mascot Lou Seal, walking the bases at 12:30 p.m.; Concord Police Officer Dan Savage, after his shift ends at 3:30 a.m.; nearly 60 Antioch Rotarians, members of the Clayton High School marching band, and neighbors, family, and friends. Harris -- her "survivor" banner turned inside out and the words "Fighting Like Hell" inscribed to signify the true state of affairs -- will walk.
"If I can help raise money for a cure, it makes something positive come out of something negative," she says. "Even a small inroad toward a cure -- it won't save me, but it will save someone else. That's my legacy."