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Relay For Life Raises Over $52,000
The cancer survivors lap early on Saturday morning. The skirling of bagpipes as a lone piper circled the track illumined only by candlelight that evening. The reading of names both of those who defeated the disease and those who lost the fight. The final "fight back" closing ceremony on Sunday morning.

There were many emotional moments in Riverbank's Relay for Life over the weekend. But the personal stories by people who have experienced cancer and have the guts to describe it drew the most attention.

Riverbank's third annual Relay for Life staged at the Riverbank High School track over the 24 hours from Saturday to Sunday morning drew hundreds of people and raised $52,000, or well over last year's total of $40,000 for the American Cancer Society, event chairperson Al Veldstra reported late Sunday.

Melissa Arata and Kori Hawkins of Modesto, who were the main speakers in the opening ceremony, told the story of their two-year-old nephew Chase, who was diagnosed with cancer after he ran into another child and his resulting black eye failed to heal. He is now fighting for his life at St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

"You never know when cancer will touch your life. Do not believe it cannot happen to your family," said Arata. "His black eye wouldn't heal. Doctors found a cancerous tumor behind it. Stage four, neuroblastoma.

"They've tried chemo, radiation, surgery, everything. At age two, hospital has become his way of life. He would go nuts to be here today, running this track. I wish it had happened to me instead. But I wouldn't have the strength and courage to endure it. Chase is a champ. And because of you he may be here next year."

Hawkins, who accompanies Arata on visits to Chase, went on to describe the strange life of patient's relatives who learn to perform all the unskilled tasks and move among the hospital staff like automatons day and night.

"We're always on call. We know how to empty pails, apply pressure, and hold lights. We're not nurses, we're not counselors or doctors. We're Cancer Moms," she said.

St. Jude's is a non-profit hospital supported entirely by donations that offer free care to children with serious diseases from across the United States.

A later speaker Nancy Call spoke as a survivor who was diagnosed with uterine cancer last December when she went to have a tubal ligation.

"I had two beautiful children, a boyfriend, my own business. I ate right and exercised. But the inside of my uterus looked like raw hamburger meat," she told the crowd.

Admitted to hospital, Call went on to describe how her pretty hair fell out, how she got into the habit of carrying a cardboard Popcorn container to puke into and how alternately she was angry and whined and cried.

Then one day the cancer went into remission, the doctor told her she was free of disease and she started the long miserable task of paying off all her bills and rebuilding her financial status. But she's OK. She has survived.

There were about 20 teams who pitched their tents or parked their RVs near the track to ensure they had a runner or walker on the track at all times during the 24 hours. Names of some of the teams with their captains were Bosom Buddies - Laurie Taylor, Freedom Fighters - Kathy Luckett, Galaxy Stars - Ryan Nelson, Gung Ho Brigade - Kathy Briggs, Otter Bob - Bob Eden, RUSD Walk 'n Roll - Susan Taylor, Starbuck's Coffee - Desarae Stanton, Take Action - Linda Abid-Cummins and Team Ethier - Heidi Ethier.

A choral group called Sweet Harmony sang the National Anthem for the Opening Ceremony, Pastor Jason Charotte gave the invocation and County Supervisor Bill O'Brien made introductions. For the Luminaria Ceremony, former sheriff's deputy Randall Francis delivered the bagpipe tribute, John Lust gave the welcome, event co-chair Karen Bickford and Kathy Riggs read the names and Dave Hosner sang 'The Wind Beneath My Wings.'