The Walk of Life

Thirty-one teams of friends and family got together over the weekend at the high school track to raise more than $98,000

Photos by Esther Smith

Survivors and friends take a Victory Lap to start off the Relay: Don Collins, left, walks with cancer survivors Elva Lee Bray and Troy Tactay, who was in the hospital getting cancer treatment at the same time his wife was in the hospital giving birth to their second son.

By Esther Smith

News staff writer

July 20, 2005

By 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, more than two dozen tents were already pitched on the football field in front of Henderson Stadium at Hood River Valley High School, and people were already strolling around the track. But it was a little early for the relay yet.

“We’re just walking around seeing what everybody’s got, first,” said Ilea Asai, as she helped her son, Doug, tie his shoe.

What everyone had was some kind of tent or shelter, decorated or not, serving as a base camp for the relay teams. The two standouts in decoration were the “4077 M.A.S.H.” tent, which was done by the “Granny’s Gang and Kevin, Too” team, made up of friends and family of Kevin White; and the “Midnight Callers” team’s tent, done by the nursing staff at Hospice of the Gorge, and friends. The two teams shared the prize for Best Decoration.

“Our theme song is Blondie’s ‘Call Me’,” laughed Debbie Medina, who was dressed in a fuchsia dress with a pink feather boa. Clothing was part of the decoration with fishnet stockings, sequins, and leopard print hats. Anne Evans, a Hood River Middle School teacher, got into the act as a friend on the team.

“They needed a chaperone, and I was the only one qualified,” she joked. “It’s a good chance to interact with the kids and a good excuse to dress up like a floozy!”

There were activities scheduled around the clock, from Jazzercise and foot and leg massage to a scavenger hunt and water slide. In addition to the contest for best tent decoration, there was also a hat contest and a pajama contest. There were children’s activities and an ice cream social, and lap poker, bingo, and more.

Though there was plenty of levity, the Relay for Life was not one big party; everyone who was there has been somehow touched by cancer, and they were there to try and make a difference. The goal is to raise money for the American Cancer Society, in the hope that a cure or better treatments can be found.

The bulk of the money is raised by pledges gathered by the walkers for time or distance walked, or a flat fee. There are also team baskets and other items available for silent auction — more than 60 of them this year — and the sales of food at mealtimes. This year the West Side Fire Department sold barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch on Saturday, and Juanita’s donated the Mexican dinner that was sold that night.

After the opening flag ceremony by the Girl Scouts, Mayor Linda Rouches spoke about her experience with cancer.

“When I was asked to be this year’s speaker, I thought, ‘You’re kidding me,’ because I didn’t think my bout with cancer was particularly remarkable, or heroic,” she said. “But then someone said to me, ‘What about the other people in your life? — that makes it heroic,’ and I realized that’s true.”

Rouches was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was caught early enough that there was a good chance of a successful treatment. Her husband, George, however, went through a difficult battle with colon cancer, and he died in 2002.

“He passed away the weekend of the Relay,” she said. “I learned a lot from George about grace and how you can have fun right up to the end. He did what my good friend Susan did, he made a list, and right up at the top of the list was ‘To go to the Holy Land,’ and we did.”

Rouches’ friend Susan is her pastor at Riverside Church, the Rev. Susan Princehouse, who is also battling cancer.

“What have I learned from Susan? To let go of insignificant stuff — thoughts, events, issues,” she said. “She has taught me to love more; taught me to value life more and I do. What I learned from my own bout with cancer is that cancer is about friendship. Friends and family think, ‘What can I do?’ and the answer is, it doesn’t have to be much.”

Rouches recounted the cards, casseroles, and just companionship that meant so much during her illness.

“I know my life has been impacted by cancer,” she said. “My niece said, ‘Cancer’s greatest gift is that every day is a gift.’ And it’s true.”

*****

According to accounting and registration coordinator Heidi Stanphill, the preliminary figure for the amount raised in this year’s Relay for Life is $98,600, and money is still coming in.

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