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Toughing It Out Relay For Life Teams Battle Elements
Spelling out the message "Hope" and "Cure" followed by a heart symbol, the candles set in the Riverbank High School football stadium flickered many times but did not go out despite the buffeting wind.

Cold gusts gathering strength into the night lashed Riverbank's Relay For Life participants over the weekend, cut down the number of visitors and activities and probably the amount of donations also. But the event went on, nevertheless, expressing the determination of all those who fight cancer.

Now in its fourth year, the Relay raised approximately $42,000 compared with $51,000 in 2009, according to one of the organizers, Karen Bickford.

Starting in bright sunshine Saturday morning with a survivors lap and speeches by cancer survivor Laurie Taylor and Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueno, the 24-hour fundraiser for the American Cancer Society had teams walking the track and various bands taking the stage until dark.

Then the wind prevented the lighting of the luminaria paper bag lights lining the track, stopped a slide show and took much of the skirl out of bagpipes played by Randall Francis.

But Dotty Nygard and Maria Verbeck spoke from the stage, people joined in walking a lap in the dark, and the Woody Hawkins Band performed onstage.

"Many visitors came during the day but fewer people stayed overnight because of the weather. Some campsites were almost blown away," said Bickford. "But we drew 26 teams this year, compared with only 11 last time. And there were lots of new teams, especially some youth teams who signed up close to the event. It was good to see the young people turn out. I hope they return next year."

The speakers included teacher Laurie Taylor, who was told she had cancer 17 years ago when the life expectancy for her particular type was typically five years; nurse Dotty Nygard, who took a year off from training school to look after her father who was dying of cancer; and Maria Verbeck who survived ovarian cancer and is now president of the Ovarian Cancer Association.

"I'm a miracle. I celebrate every day," said Taylor. "When I was told I had cancer, I was scared to death. Then I got on with the business of living. I had a nurse who told me cancer was a gift in teaching me how to appreciate life and my friends. Without them I would never have made it through. I had my 57th birthday three days ago. Sing Happy Birthday to me and yourselves."

Speaking as a caregiver, Nygard said she and her father never came so close to each other as in the year she spent looking after him. She encouraged people to look after their health, listen to their bodies and question their doctors because they have the right to know what is going on.

"I call you my warriors," Verbeck said of those who look after cancer patients. "Without you we could not carry on. You are the warriors who bring us coffee early in the morning, find a blanket to keep us warm, wait around while we go through chemo."

Looking to next year's event, Bickford asked anybody interested in being a committee member or starting a team to call her at 869-8676.