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Survivors illuminate Ashley Pond with hope

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By Carol A. Clark

The strong and healthy presence of hundreds of cancer survivors at this weekend’s Relay For Life event provided inspiration and hope to many battling the disease.

“I had thyroid cancer in 2001 and survived,” Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados said. “My husband Jeff is a survivor of prostrate cancer, which he had in 2007.”

Former County Councilor Jim West is undergoing cancer treatment in Texas. He is the honorary chair of this year’s Relay For Life and also an inspiration to many.

“I have Jim West on the phone listening to us from his hospital bed,” cancer survivor Michael Wismer told the crowd gathered under and around the main tent Friday evening at Ashley Pond. “Jim wanted to be here and has asked me to read a letter aloud that he wrote to all of you.”

“I am so honored to be a part of this wonderful event even from a distance,” West wrote. “I know the success of this event is the result of the efforts of many hardworking people to which many of us owe a huge thank you. I regret that I cannot be with you this evening and I look forward to coming home soon, not only a survivor but a winner, to the town I love and the people I love.”

West went on to say that life deals a hard hand to play every now and then and the measure of a person’s character can be demonstrated by how he or she plays that hand.

“We don’t give up and throw in the bad hand,” he said. “You can’t win if you don’t play to win. I’m playing to win and I hope every one of you who have experienced what every cancer patient goes through will encourage each other to keep on playing and winning.”

West encouraged those fighting cancer to think of their families, friends, homes and the beautiful mountains surrounding Los Alamos to lift them up whenever they’re feeling down.

He thanked his many supporters for their cards, letters, e-mails telephone calls and personal visits and most of all for the prayers that have been spoken on his behalf.

“One thing that carries me through each day, he said, is the knowledge that although, ‘I don’t know what tomorrow holds, I know Who holds tomorrow’.”

Cancer survivor Lou Santaro of Lou Santaro’s State Farm attended the Relay For Life event. He is an avid motorcycle rider and appeared fit Friday evening despite a recent spill from his Harley in which he broke eight ribs.

“I’ve survived cancer twice,” Santaro said. “I beat one type of cancer in 1995 and another in 2008. I feel great and it’s wonderful to participate in this year’s Relay For Life. My entire staff is here – they all have someone touched by cancer.”

Santaro, his wife and their staff operated a booth at the event to raise money for people undergoing treatment and to help pay for research into a cure. They provided sumo wrestler competitions, face painting, a bouncy tent, a pet walk, music and more.

Hope Jaramillo also is a two-time cancer survivor. She and her family joined a Girl Scout group operating a tie dye booth.

“I’m walking around Ashley Pond for my mom,” 11-year-old Taylor Jaramillo said.

The Jewish Community Center also hosted a fundraising booth. Planning and Zoning Board Chairman David Izraelevitz and wife Terry and others grilled Kosher hotdogs, providing all the fixings as well as lemonade for the hungry crowd.

While raising money for the American Cancer Society, they also entertained event participants gathered to watch three Los Alamos High School graduates compete in a hot dog eating contest. The competition involved who could eat three hot dogs the quickest.

Competitors Kent Ly, 18, Adam Nekimken, 18, and Adam Izraelevitz, 18, purchased hot dogs used in the event since the money was going to a worthy cause.

Nekimken proved the fastest at 1 minute 20 seconds, followed closely by Izraelevitz.

Ly pulled up the rear, proving hot dogs dipped in lemonade don’t go down any easier and is not a winning strategy.

When asked how he felt, champion Nekimken responded, “I feel full, but not overstuffed.”

Miss New Mexico National U.S. Ellen Kress of Los Alamos dawned her sparkling crown and strolled through the event greeting survivors and their families. “I am the leader of Team Thurston-Key Club,” Kress said.

David Thurston is a teacher at Los Alamos High School who completed his cancer treatment on Friday.

“I’m here because my first mom died of cancer,” Erik Leith, 11, said. He was joined by William Carter, 10, Owen Geiger, 4.5, and David Smith, 11.

“We’re all walking to raise money for people that have cancer for their treatment,” Smith said. “I’m also participating for my neighbors and for my friend Jim West.”

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.