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By Kristina Pritchett
Sitting at a picnic table at Lantern Bay Park, two women with personal experiences with cancer recalled their Relay for Life journeys.
Rachel Alonzo, a former Dana Point resident, has been involved with Relay for Life since 2005 when a friend walked in her honor. At the time, Alonzo was going through recovery.
“Someone walked the full 24 hours on my behalf while I was recovering,” Alonzo said. “So because they had done that for me, I felt that I had to attend to see what it was about.”
When she attended the event, she was invited to walk the survivor lap, and was given a beaded necklace.
“She asked me how many years since I was diagnosed, and I told her it had almost been a year,” Alonzo said. “She said, ‘That’s OK, you’re almost at a year,’ and she put the necklace on me and it made such an impression.”
Alonzo said for the rest of the event, she walked around and noticed people wearing the beads. She began to count how many each person had; how many years since their initial cancer diagnoses.
“I saw a man with five necklaces on and thought, ‘Man, that’s so cool. They have five.’ Some people had 30 on, and they were so happy to show how fortunate they were, and that gave me hope,” Alonzo said.
Across the table from Alonzo was Sue Ervin, a San Juan Capistrano resident, who lost her husband to cancer this past year. But, she had been involved with Relay because of another family member before her husband was diagnosed.
“I got involved five years ago. I had no idea what it was, but it was amazing,” Ervin said. “There was so much support and a lot of community involvement.”
Ervin’s team gives out a lanyard for a $5 donation and every time someone walks a lap and visits the booth, they can grab a bead.
She recalled when local students attended one Relay, one of the girls had amassed a stringof more than 100 beads.
“It was taller than her,” Ervin said smiling.
Ervin said she doesn’t walk as many laps now, but she always keeps the beads as a reminder.
Both women say the event brings celebration to those who have survived and remembrance to those who have died from cancer.
Alonzo said it’s nice to see who attends the annual event and to hear everyone’s stories. The women know not everyone likes to share their stories, but said Relay brings everyone together.
“We all know there’s a connection with each other because of cancer,” Alonzo said.
Ervin agreed and added that because of this, people know they’re not alone.
Relay for Life begins Saturday, Sept. 17 at 10 a.m. and will continue to Sunday, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m.
Throughout the day, survivors, families and friends will walk around the park and help raise funds and awareness. There will be designated laps for care givers and survivors as well as a luminaria ceremony, an opening ceremony and a closing ceremony.
There will also be vendor booths, music and entertainment and food from various restaurants in the city.
Anyone can participate in the event by signing up online, or registering the day of the event. Donations can also be made online at www.relayforlife.com.
Parking will be available at the Dana Point Community Center and a shuttle will run back and forth for those interested in parking there.
Lantern Bay Park is located at 25111 Park Lantern, Dana Point.