“I’m not done yet,” Karen Aozasa, a two-time cancer survivor, told the crowd at Sunday’s closing ceremony for Pleasanton’s .
“I have children to raise, places to go and people to see.”
Aozasa’s story — diagnosed with cervical cancer when her son was a 1-year-old and who endured biopsies, surgery, chemotherapy, remission and return — was not an unfamiliar tale at the event, organized by local American Cancer Society volunteers.
Her words echoed those of fellow survivors, including Tonianne Nemeth and Stephanie Davilla, who told personal and compelling tales about their battle with cancer.
This year, the 24-hour Relay for Life raised $91,542.62 for cancer survivors, nearly $32,000 more than in 2010.
From 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday, more than 300 supporters circled the gravel track at , weathering the hot midday, chilly midnight and bright morning.
Relay participants were divided into teams. Each team sought donations prior to the event and during the relay, as individuals took turns running, jogging and walking to fight cancer. Teams camped on the track, turning the grass field into a forest of tents.
“Cancer never sleeps,” said committee member Larry Coy, explaining why the relay runs 24 hours straight, "and the darkness giving way to dawn represents the hope that a cure will be found.”
In addition to running laps, supporters could participate in a silent auction, take breaks and gain spirit points by dressing up for themed laps. Younger participants played games at the Kids Kamp, while local bands and even a pro-wrestling match served as entertainment throughout the day.
As the sun went down, the luminaria ceremony began. Glowing paper bags lined the dark track, commemorating cancer victims and survivors and lighting the way for the relay runners.
In the United States, cancer is the cause of nearly one in four deaths, according to a report by the American Cancer Society. The report also found that in 2011, more than 1,500 Americans are expected to die of cancer each day.
The theme of this year’s relay, “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back,” aimed to remember those who died of cancer, while the survivors fight back for the chance to celebrate another birthday.
Toward the end of the event, participants looked worn from the 24-hour experience but seemed determined to finish strong. And so, in pajamas, in blankets, in sickness and in health, they took their final lap in the cold morning air.
Pleasanton's Relay For Life is accepting donations through Aug. 31. The goal is $100,000. To donate, visit the website.