The first time Herald Ochea learned his uncle, Buck Carroll, had cancer was on the drive to Kenai Central High School the 2014 year’s Central Peninsula Relay for Life, May 30.
After the opening ceremony that evening, the pair went into the wind-rattled tarp tent housing supplies of markers and white paper bags to make Luminaria for their family members that did not survive their battle with the disease. Each bag contains a candle which lights the person’s name, and line the path where relay for life walkers march during the event.
Carroll said he has been directly and indirectly dealing with cancer for the past 50 years. His mother, father and two brothers both died from the illness, and he too has been diagnosed.
Over the years Carroll’s discussions with fellow Relayers evolved from coping with the death of family member, to acting as caregiver for someone struggling with the disease, to treating himself.
“Cancer levels all playing fields, it does not discriminate,” event chair Johna Beech said. “Everyone is one degree away from someone with cancer.”
Beech said she is fully on board with this year’s theme “Finish the fight.” Research has come so far in the last one hundred years, she said.
The hope of researchers with the American Cancer Society is to eradicate the disease within the next century.
Every person walking with her on the KCHS track was contributing to the fight against cancer, by either raising or contributing funds, Beech said.
By the end of this year’s event, the Central Peninsula chapter raised $52,243.11, $13,000 less than their goal.
Beech paused on southern curve of the track, facing the walkers, battling the cold air coming at them in sharp gusts.
“No matter what the weather, we are out here,” Rebecca Stimmel, who walked with her son Riley Stimmel. She hoped to show her son the importance of volunteering and seeing how events like the Relay for Life gain so much community support.
Brooke Jackson said she too came with family. Her father died a year ago after a short fight against cell lung cancer, she said.
Afterward, the family had begun to drift apart, Jackson said. Her father was the glue that held the family together.
Jackson said she was thankful to be walking that day with her mother, and siblings.
Family, friends and co-workers made up the coalition of walkers for September Klumb, who passed away earlier this year on March 9, said Becky Robert who worked with Klumb at Fred Meyer.
Last year, Klumb walked all night, even though she was in pain, Robert said. She would have walked at KCHS this year. Instead, Klumb’s whole family came out for her, she said.
As Jake Slegers, 4, did laps he stopped in front of the luminaria made for his mother, Sarah Dehlbom Slegers, who passed away from a rare cancer called nereoendocrine tumor.
“He was having a hard time when he saw her pictures,” Jake Slegers father, Jan Slegers said.
Members of the team “Walking for Sarah,” attended the event in style. A large RV was parked in the back of the field where walkers who planned to stay over night had set up tents.
Pink glitter-bordered letters lined the side of vehicle announcing the team name. Each member of the group also wore zebra stripes, the assigned colors of the uncommon tumor.
Denise Dutile, the team captain, has survived after a battle with kidney cancer.
“My friends were there to support me, now it is my turn to support them,” Dutile said.