Laugh, Grieve, Hug and Give ... That's the Relay for Life

On Saturday and Sunday in Novato, you can take part in something bigger than yourself: The American Cancer Society's natonwide annual 24-hour tribute/fundraiser.

Novato Relay for Life chairperson Kandi Blomquist is so excited that she barely stops to take a breath when asked why it's an important event:

“We want everyone to come out to see what it is ... it’s so inspirational and so much fun ... people are fundraising with carnival games, face-painting, a dunk tank from the fire department, a big jumpy obstacle course ... the Boys Scouts run games for kids the whole day ... there are massage therapists under canopies raising money all day ... bands playing all day ...”

Each year, Relay For Life, the signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society and global phenomenon, is held in 5,000 communities all over the United States with additional participation of communities within 19 countries across the world, and this weekend it’s Novato’s turn.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, the local version starts with the colorful opening ceremonies including the Survivor Lap — where caregivers are also acknowledged and appreciated — and lasts until after the Boy Scouts' Pancake Breakfast and closing ceremonies 24 hours later. The atmosophere at San Jose Middle School's track will be devoted to celebrating the lives of people who have battled cancer and survived,  honoring those who have passed away and fighting against the disease by raising research funds.

Blomquist, a professional lighting designer and longtime Novato resident, became involved with Relay in 2004 when she was asked to design a theme for a team campsite. Participants are organized into teams with a maximum of 15 people; each team has its own campsite where they can hang out for the 24-hour period as someone from each team circles the track for 24 hours straight tag-team style).

“I was sort of blown away,” Blomquist says, remembering her first Relay. “Seeing all those survivors all walking together was so beautiful and yet so hard. I met a man — a cancer survivor — from Team Shalom from the synagogue in San Rafael, who was out there to show his son that he was strong. ... I didn’t want to go away. I was supposed to be there for a couple of hours, but I ended up staying the whole day and brought coffee and hot chocolate the next morning.”

Blomquist became a team captain for five years as well as the online registration chair before beginning a two-year post as event chair for Novato. In addition to the annual Relay for Life, Blomquist organized Bark for Life (which raised more than $5,000) and the Mini-Relay for Life at area schools.

“We had six people on the committee a few years ago, last year we had 12 and this year I have 24,” Blomquist says explaining the exponential growth in the all-volunteer effort. This year 73 Novato teams representing almost 500 people are participating.

Back in August 2009, through her church, longtime Novato resident Karen Lynch participated in Relay for Life. A couple months later she found a lump in her breast that turned out to be triple negative  cancer, a fast-growing, aggressive cancer that did not show up on any mammogram. The lithe former San Francisco police officer in her early 50s is now Relay for Life team captain.

“I don’t know if I would be alive today if it wasn’t for the research the American Cancer Society has funded over the years,” Lynch says. “I never felt 'Why me?' I always felt, 'Why not me?' as I’ve heard other women say."

Lynch’s campsite theme is ‘Summer of Love’ to reflect how far cancer treatment has progressed over the last four decades.

“I was a kid during the Summer of Love, and at that time if you had cancer you probably didn’t survive. I also wanted to make a mess of tie-dye T-shirts,” she adds with a laugh.

(Those lovingly tie-dyed T-shirts will be for sale in the carnival atmosphere of Saturday’s Relay for Life.)

The mother of three says her ambition is for the next generation not to have to deal with cancer.

“I love how the money goes toward further research,” she says.

Highlights of Relay for Life include the hilarious men-only bra-decorating contest and women-only frozen-bra-wearing contest on Saturday afternoon. After dark, lighting is provided only by candles lit inside bags filled with sand, the Luminaria Ceremony. This inspirational setting is a time and place to honor people who have been touched by cancer and to remember loved ones lost to the disease. Each luminaria bears the name of a person touched by cancer, and participants often walk the lap in silence.

"It's absolutely breath-taking," Blomquist says.

Speaking of breath, bring your own mat and join this writer as I teach a free Yoga for Life class from 7:30-8:30 a.m. Sunday morning.  

Beth Huizenga July 29, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Thank you for sharing your touching story, Kathy Hart - and also Gerry's emphasis that coming to Relay for Life is free and available to all.
Craig Belfor July 29, 2011 at 03:25 AM
I'm always amazed how it seems to be that the people who have faced death have the most incredibly balanced views on life. It's sad that we have to go through this to realize what's important. Every cancer survivor I've met was a far superior person wisdom wise than the average person who had not faced this challenge. We can learn a lot from their experiences.
Sylvia Barry July 29, 2011 at 04:39 AM
It is amazing to watch Kandi's enthusiasm, energy and positive attitude for Relay for Life and life in general and witness how she spread that to the people around her. She also invest her emotion into this event and the people she helps and honors through this event. And yes, Karen has the same make up too. It takes some very special people to make this a success. I uploaded a schedule of events for the day - this is actually a partial list (but does have the band schedule) as Kandi and her board keep on adding activities to the event and most of the teams have their own activities for the day.
Double Eagle July 29, 2011 at 05:12 AM
It was Patch.com that suggested Double Eagle Fitness sponsor a team for this year's Relay For Life. Patch.com connected me to Kandi and I feel as though I've known her for years! With her support, Team Double Eagle Fitness was formed in early July and we were still able to raise over a thousand dollars for the ACS. Thank you Patch and Kandi for bringing this inspiring event to our attention.
Lori Pearce July 30, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Patch is proud to be helping today at the relay....stop by and see us. Great job to our local Editor, Derek Wilson, who just spoke and is walking the survivors lap!


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