Relay for Life kicks off Saturday

When you fight cancer, or provide love and support for someone in the midst of the battle, you are a superhero. So Superheros Fighting Cancer is the theme of this year’s annual Relay for Life, where Batman and Superwoman will be seen rounding the track as participants are being encouraged to walk in costume.

“Everyone who comes out is a superhero because we are all out here saving lives. That’s what we’re doing,” said event chair Josephine McGrane. The goal is to raise $165,000 for the American Cancer Society, as well as to provide encouragement and emotional support for all those whose lives are touched by cancer. McGrane is urging everyone to come to Sonoma Valley High School and experience the uplifting event, even those who have not registered in advance.

The high-energy opening ceremony is Saturday at 10 a.m., followed by the Survivors Lap, when all cancer survivors take the first lap around the track while music plays and supporters cheer their success. The names of survivors will be read aloud, and doves will be released. All cancer survivors are welcome to come, even if it’s a last minute decision. Fifty-eight fundraising teams will then continue to take turns making laps for 24 hours, walking all through the night in their fight against cancer.

The Luminaria Ceremony is at 9 p.m. and is a time to remember those lost to cancer, to support those who currently have cancer and to honor people who have fought cancer in the past.

The votive candles can be purchased and personalized at the event or online. It’s OK to just show up on Saturday, make a donation and put a loved one’s name on a luminaria to shine brightly in the night.

“Our success really depends on the public coming out this weekend,” McGrane said. There will be something going on at all times, including live entertainment, motivational speakers and a silent auction. Lunch will be available and there is a chicken and sausage barbecue dinner.

Another way to donate is to contribute hair to be made into free wigs for those who have lost their hair during chemotherapy. Pantene Beautiful Lengths hair donation booth will be doing haircuts Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. If your hair is at least eight inches long, they will cut your ponytail and style your hair at no charge. They will also be cutting shorter hair for a donation of $50.

Event co-chair Kristi Paganini is a breast cancer survivor. “I just want everyone to know that it’s survivable and you can beat it,” she said. “We always hear the horrible stories, but more people survive cancer than are lost to cancer.”

There has been a Relay for Life in Sonoma for the past 17 years, raising a total of $2.7 million. “It’s important to get together as a community and see that every person is dealing with cancer in one way or another. Coming together, signing your name on the lap wall, or making a luminaria are ways of taking back your sense of control. By taking action, you feel as though you are combating,” Paganini said.

McGrane and Paganini have dedicated so many hours in their roles that it is almost like an extra job. McGrane has been on the organizing committee for seven years, and this is her second year as chair. This is Paganini’s fourth year on the committee, starting even before she had cancer in 2012.

“It’s all coming together now. Most of our work is done,” McGrane said on Wednesday night, as she and Paganini were spending long, late hours making large paintings of superheroes for tent decorations at Relay for Life.

They are both on a fundraising team, too, The Cure-saders, so if you can’t make it to the event, consider going online and honoring their efforts with a contribution to their team. Donations will be accepted until Aug. 31. For more information, email relayjo@gmail.com, or visit relayforlife.org/sonomaca.