Relay For Life raises more than a million

Sharida Rejon, Features editor

299 teams and approximately 4,069 participants were able to raise $1,135,485.50 at the 23rd annual Bakersfield Relay For Life, which took place on a 24-hour span beginning on May 3.

The Bakersfield Relay For Life, hosted by the American Cancer Society, has successfully raised over $1 million annually for the past 11 years, making it one of the largest relay events in the world. The majority of the money raised goes toward cancer research and a portion is given to local organizations designed to assist cancer patients and their families in various ways.

Making its appearance for the fifth time at the annual Bakersfield Relay For Life was Team I Love Lucy, whose members have been greatly affected by cancer. “We lost my sister back in 2009, and I am a cancer survivor – same year my sister passed away, I found out I had cancer, so it was tough year for us,” said Chuck Raulston, one of the team members.

Raulston, whose mother and father’s lives were also taken by cancer, said that the main reason they participate year after year is to help fight this disease and keep his sister’s memory alive.

“We know that cancer touches everybody in one way or another, and you never expect your youngest sister to get it,” he said. “When she got it, she had a really hard fight for it, and we finally lost her, so her best friend, Karen Jackson, decided to start a team to honor her and of course the whole family jumped on board.”

Raulston also explained that the disease keeps affecting other people on their team, including the family of the team captain, Jackson.

“Unfortunately our team captain’s mother is fighting two types of cancer,” said Raulston. “So it’s something that keeps hitting us, and we want to fight it.”

Team I Love Lucy conducted several fundraisers prior to the Relay For Life event. At the beginning of the event, they had already collected $6,337, hoping to reach their ultimate goal of $10,000 by the end of the day.

“We have to fight this disease, and the only way they can do it is through research, and research takes money,” said Raulston. “All we can do is hope and pray that we are doing enough to bring a cure to this down the road – there’s always hope.”

Another team present at the event was Team GEMCare – Caring is Part of the Cure, which featured a large birthday cake prop in front of their campsite, decorated with numerous tealight candles. Each candle represented a person who has been affected by cancer.

“We’ve done the tealight candles on the cake for about five years,” said Susan Ristenpart, the team captain. “We started doing it as part of the theme to celebrate more birthdays, and it’s kind of become our identity.”

Team GEMCare – Caring is Part of the Cure raised over $21,000, placing them among the top 10 teams.

Ristenpart, a skin cancer survivor, said that her motivation to participate yearly is herself and her own fight that she went through. “We each have our own reason to relay, it could be for loved ones or it could be self-motivation,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to assist in finding a cure.”

Bakersfield Relay For Life is known for offering several activities throughout the event. One of these activities was the Locks of Love segment, where volunteers donated their hair to the non-profit organization in order to make wigs for cancer patients.

Edwin Borbon, a Bakersfield College student and current Student Government Association vice president, was among the volunteers.

Borbon said that his inspiration to participate is his grandmother, who passed away from cancer.

“I do this every two years,” said Borbon. “I hope to inspire other people to grow their hair out and donate, because to me my hair doesn’t really have too much value, so I grow it out to donate to people who actually need it and who do hold a lot of value in their hair.”

Borbon, who is a member of Team Fight For the Cure, feels like this event is important to raise awareness in the community.

“I feel like people need to be more aware of how many people are actually affected by cancer,” he said. “The stigma cancer has is that it’s old people, but when you come here, you see babies, children, and teenagers who have passed away from cancer, and I feel like Relay makes people in our community more aware about how big an issue this disease is.”

One of the main events during Relay For Life is the Luminaria Ceremony, where participants gather to honor and remember cancer victims, and support the ones going through the fight, while lanterns line up the track.

“Each luminaria is personalized with a name or message in memory or honor of a friend or loved one who has been affected by cancer,” said Kurt Rivera, master of ceremonies during the Luminaria Ceremony. “Each one, each candle, represents a person.”

Rivera explained that the luminaria lanterns are symbolic for the emotional stages that cancer victims’ experience. “Physically, the paper sack represents our thick skin, what you need when you hear a cancer diagnosis, the sand inside offers us a firm foundation when we feel weak, the solid candle, is what our caregivers, family, friends, doctors, and nurses are to us, and the flame is the light of hope – hope that a cure will be found, it’s the burning desire in each of us to extinguish cancer now.”

The Luminaria Ceremony drew thousands of people, who later walked a remembrance lap in honor of those taken by cancer.

“By being here tonight, we are keeping the flame alive and we are helping to make it burn bright until the day comes when we have conquered cancer for good,” said Rivera.