Ballard students, supporters and survivors raise funds at Relay for Life

The Relay for Life of Northwest Seattle at Whitman Middle School brought in 27 teams and 228 participants to walk, run and raise money that will all be donated to the American Cancer Society.

The 16-hour marathon over June 1-2 featured events like team parades, lawn games, guest speakers such as 36-D Rep. Gael Tarleton and Carson Wiggs of the Seattle Seahawks, as well as the traditional survivors’ lap.

With over 1.66 million cases of cancer projected for 2013, according to the American Cancer Society, “the Big C” has become a disease that has touched almost everyone in one way or another.

Cindy Lange, who joined the Windemere Walkers team, kept thoughts of her friend and her mother in mind as she walked the track. Her friend is a mother of a 37-year-old son, who is currently suffering from brain and lung cancer. He had fought to overcome the disease a few years ago, but this time around proved less fortunate for the family. Lange’s friend decided to move back home to Texas and put her life on hold to spend time with her son.

“That whole family is going through all the dynamics,” Lange said. “It’s a physical change … and also what happens to the people that are left behind. He’s been the tent pole of their family, so everything’s going to be different.”

Lange went through a scare with her own mother five years ago. At 82, her mother had found a lump in her breast but was able to remove it immediately and returned home the next day.

“I am so thankful for that,” Lange said. “That happened because there is an awareness of breast cancer. That wouldn’t have been the case years ago. They have things like this (event) and it makes it something people can talk about. It’s something that everybody can relate to and the more we talk about it the less scary it becomes.”

And the conversations were sparking around the track, raising awareness among people of all ages. Eleanor Stratton-Clunas, 17, a Ballard High School student and captain of the Life Savers team has been on the Relay for Life development crew for the past two years, helping to coordinate this event locally.

Reaching out to all the team captains and encouraging people to form groups, Stratton-Clunas promoted participation within students and youth around the area.

Her inspiration comes from the loss of one of her mentors, Cheryl Chow, Seattle City Council member, who passed away earlier in March 2013 from central-nervous-system lymphoma. Stratton-Clunas knew her as the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team captain.

“She was one of those people that made her presence very strong,” Stratton-Clunas said. “Whenever she was with us, she always gave good lessons. She would come up to you and know your name; it would be very personal … You didn’t go unnoticed even from the shyest girl to the loudest one.”

Remembering Chow throughout this event has reminded her of why Relay for Life is so important and the impact she can make on others.

“When I do this, it makes me think of her,” she said. “It’s just another way to give back and give support to people like her.”

To Jean Oplinger, Relay for Life means living in the present. After the loss her father and cousin to cancer in the last five years, as well as supporting her friend, who is currently battling lymphoma, Oplinger has learned to just be grateful.

“It’s just everywhere,” she said. “When it comes to cancer or any kind of disease, the disease kind of dictates its destiny in a way … You really just stay in the moment and on the next indicated step you should do.”

Oplinger’s father was over 80 years old when the cancer had taken over. She said she always knew there was a life and death, but what she really wasn’t prepared for was death.

“It’s a big deal,” she said. “It was a big learning moment for me. But I now understand. Cancer is a big deal, but there is recovery.”

Years later, Oplinger still is affected by little reminders of her loved ones, like the smell of cookies recalls memories of her cousin’s love of baking. But she doesn’t let them get to her and she is able to move on.

“I think you just get used to the pain from loss,” Oplinger explained. “You just get used to the loss. You don’t get rid of it … But it’ll just still catch me.”

Participating in Relay for Life this year has given her some hope. As a chaperone for the BHS students, she found out that many of them are involved with biotechnology classes and she remains optimistic about their interest in making advancements to cure the cause in the future.

“It just feels like community, it feels healthy just to be walking,” she said. “It feels like the right thing to do. We’re here to have conversations about it so we’ll never forget it.”

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