Saturday’s Annual Relay-for-Life: “Wish Upon a Cure”
By Susan Chasang
The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service. Overall, their mission is to “save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer,” said Monica Veliz De Leon, who is the Community Outreach Specialist for Imperial County.
As the county’s ACS office staff and board members prepare for its 16th Annual Relay-for-Life’s “Wish Upon a Cure” themed event this Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at the Imperial Valley College Track Field, so do its volunteers and sponsors. Putting an event together for the community that involves fundraising is an arduous undertaking.
For De Leon and this group, it’s a year-round endeavor with multiple moving parts that heavily relies on its board members, volunteers, and sponsors to “get the word out” about its mission and who it benefits. Like any other cause, it’s not exempt from challenges on occasions with clarity on its message and outreach goals.
Nancy Kizziah of Holtville, a volunteer and now also a sponsor of the nonprofit, understands this well. Although she has been involved with ACS for nearly 15 years, her first connection with the cause was when a friend asked her to participate at an annual relay back in 2001. She enjoyed the event and got a glimpse of what the event and its mission was about. However, her in-depth understanding came a few months later when the cause that she once joined in on a casual basis became a personal battle on the home front. Unfortunately, like so many before and after her, it’s how the lifelong journey of battles often begins when those few words become real, “it’s cancer.”
Nancy’s granddaughter Marya was only one and a half years old when she was diagnosed with Leukemia back in 2001. Tragically, her family’s fight was lost one year later when Marya’s bone marrow transplant, donated by her brother, was not the cure needed. Driving home from San Diego’s Children’s hospital with a whole host of foreign and indescribable emotions, she had a moment of clarity and conviction and it was, “What can I really do to get involved?”
The “involved” in her conviction was the desire to help others with the process that every diagnosed person, family member, and friends experience unexpectedly like she and her family did. Nancy didn’t want to continue to see other families dealing with the trauma and devastation that cancer alone will inflict on their loved ones without additional resources to manage through tough challenges and processes, even if it’s just to talk to someone outside of their immediate circle.
This is understandable because according to ACS, “In 2017, nearly 13 percent of all cancers diagnosed in adults ages 20 and older will be rare cancers, defined in the report as a cancer with fewer than six cases per 100,000 people per year.” With rare cases, a sense of isolation can occur greater for the person diagnosed and their loved ones. Also, the National Cancer Institute reported that, “In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease.”
Although research and technology has changed and advanced much since Marya’s battle and the survivor rate has improved, Nancy thinks that the emotional toll that cancer takes on the person diagnosed, family, and caregivers is still a horrendous experience that still calls for participation and morale support from the community at large.
So, when that moment of clarity happened for Nancy back in 2002, without a plan or much strategy, she signed up the night before the deadline to form a team to participate in the 2003 annual relay. She has also committed to continued fundraising and outreach activities to help support and enhance the programs offered to all residents by the county’s local American Cancer Society office in El Centro at 400 S. 8th Street.
Getting involved is a decision made by participants for various reasons and goals to help the research battle in finding a cure for cancer. But no matter the common dire circumstances surrounding the motivation and timing to get involved, it will have its rewards too, like friendship, morale support, and a network of resources developed through a shared cause that’s worthy for all at some level. Both De Leon and Kizziah agree, cancer impacts us all and often unexpectedly, so you would want access to some solid resources to support your loved ones or personal battle for survival and the road to recovery.