Declaring war on cancer

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By Kirsten Laskey

The mission and the operation remain identical to previous years, but this year’s Relay for Life, Los Alamos has a new appearance.

Before, the event was held in conjunction to the Los Alamos Summer Concert series and set at Ashley Pond.

However, event chair Hilde Fitzgerald explained there were some safety concerns about the pond setting and with the municipal building being torn down right next door.

“I needed a plan B,” she said.

The alternative option brought the event to Sullivan Field; Fitzgerald said this actually follows the steps of many other relays held across the U.S. The common location is a high school track.

The local relay will begin at its new location at 6 p.m. Friday and continue through noon Saturday.

The event, which will feature the theme, “Atomic City’s War on Cancer,” will includes a cancer survivor kick-off lap at 6 p.m., and live music starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Children’s interests have also been considered. Friday, Patti Cake the Clown and Party to Go will be offering their services.

Saturday, breakfast will be on the Masons starting at 10 a.m. The breakfast is free to relay teams and $6 to the public.

Although the local Relay for Life follows a national format, it does take a few liberties to make it unique to Los Alamos.

For instance, many other relays do not offer participants breakfast. “We really pamper our relayers and survivors as well,” Fitzgerald said.

Another difference was having the event in a park and even while the new location will lack the affect of the luminaries, lit in honor of those affected by cancer, reflected in the water at Ashley Pond, it does offer some advantages such as access to a concession stand, she said.

The location may be new but that has not wavered the community’s support for the event. Last year 120-130 people walked loops in support of the fight against cancer. This year, 170 people have registered to participate. The money earned through this event has also risen throughout the years. Last year, $40,000 were raised, a jump from the $27,000 raised in 2006.

The local Relay for Life also stands out from the other relays in communities of similar size as having the highest number of cancer survivor participants for the past two years.

The reason behind its’ success, said Allen Wadlinger, of the Relay for Life committee, is because “It gives the whole community a chance honor and remember people affected by cancer.”

When people see the luminaries and read the names on the bags, Wadlinger said, it makes them feel good and brings closure to their experience with cancer.

Every relay has its own few twists, he added, but they are still recognizable as Relay for Life. All events are “to have a good time and celebrate as well as to remember,” Wadlinger said.

Additionally, all Relay for Life events support American Cancer Society. Fitzgerald said on a national level, the money is used for research, treatments, prevention, lobbying, advocacy and education.

Locally, the money is used to support programs such as the Look Good, Feel Better Program and Reach for Recovery.

For this support to continue, the Los Alamos Relay for Life committee is looking for some fresh blood.

Position include event chair, which Fitzgerald is vacating after this year. Although committee is looking for new members right now, newcomers “shouldn’t be intimated,” Fitzgerald said. Help is available.

Committee members are there to assist and the American Cancer Society offers training sessions to prepare for the Relay for Life.

If interested in joining the effort to organize this event, call Fitzgerald at 412-2367 or Valerie New, American Cancer Society staff member , in Albuquerque, at 505-262-6025.