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Two women share their passion and reason for participating each year in Relay for Life.

 - From left: Tami Weber, Dani Tuttle, Coco Murray, Larry Weber, Quinn Murray, Andrea Thompson and Nevin Thompson. The group paused for a photo in front of their Rebound booth at the 2019 Relay for Life event.

Relay For Life celebrates 35 years this year, as teams around the country once again hold this important annual event to raise funds for cancer research.

Even though the event looks different this year for communities due to COVID-19, teams are still coming together to bring awareness and raise funds for Relay For Life.

According to the official Relay For Life website, the first event started with one man in 1985. Dr. Gordon "Gordy" Klatt walked for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, to help raise money for cancer research for the American Cancer Society.

Klatt had battled stomach cancer and passed away in 2014 from complications. During his initial walk in 1985, he raised $27,000 in pledges to help save lives from cancer. His efforts inspired the first event the next year with 19 teams, which were part of the first Relay For Life event at the historical Stadium Bowl.

It has since become a global phenomenon.

Crook County has participated for 21 years in Relay For Life. According to the Relay For Life website, it is estimated that in 2020, 9.8 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with new cancer cases, and 606,520 deaths will result from cancer.

The four most common types of cancer are lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that cancer-related direct medical costs in the U.S. in 2015 were approximately $80.2 billion, with 52% of those costs resulting in hospital outpatient or office-based provider visits—and 38% from outpatient hospital stays.

Funds to support research is important, as are funds for caregivers and family members when cancer patients are receiving treatment outside their immediate hometown. Funds derived from the fundraisers from Relay For Life support these and other important costs associated with cancer treatment.

When it becomes personal

Many of the participants who get involved with Relay For Life are cancer survivors. They have traveled the road and put in the time to know first-hand the importance of research and providing help to the families when the extra expenses begin to mount.

Tami Weber is one of those survivors, although she began participating as part of a team before her cancer diagnosis. Weber participated in the Les Schwab team for Relay For Life for several years, serving on the team alongside Margie Schwab, who lost her own battle with cancer.

In 2014, it became personal when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I finished up with my five-year, good-to-go check-up this year," said Weber.

She started a team for Rebound (Physical Therapy) six years ago. This year, her husband also started a team under Rebound.

"We have kind of a guys versus gals thing going, and it's obviously a tougher year, since we are the only county in Central Oregon having a Relay For Life," said Weber. "I think it's absolutely amazing, even though we have nine teams."

She added that the Relay For Life event will be done virtually.

"That is just the essence of Relay For Life," she added. "People still try to make it work — and people still have cancer. We just need to continue to try to raise some money."

She indicated that anyone could join a team or donate to a team. There is also a silent auction online via Facebook.

"It will be just walking around a neighborhood and just participating," Weber went on to say. "Even if you cannot walk, you can rock in a rocking chair, you can ride a bike — it doesn't matter. Or nothing at all — you can just donate."

Another member of Weber's team has dedicated her artistic talents, donating a piece of furniture to raise funds for her team.

"We wanted to set up our own team this year, and with COVID craziness, it just got too complicated to try to get it all together this year," said Jenn Hayworth.

Hayworth has a local home furnishing store, Home Beautiful Oregon. In 2018, Home Beautiful Oregon was asked to sponsor Relay For Life.

"I read up on it a little bit, but really didn't know what it was all about," said Hayworth. "The gal that asked me to sponsor was so passionate about the program and what it does for individuals — as well as the community, we became sponsors and went to a couple of the meetings, but still didn't have a complete understanding of what Relay For Life does."

She added that the following year, a friend that is a breast cancer survivor asked her to join the Rebound Physical Therapy team with her.

"I showed up at the event last year with the intention to stay for a couple of hours and walk 10,000 steps," noted Hayworth. "I was so incredibly moved by the number of people that were at the event, and the different stories that I had heard, I ended up staying all day and walked over 30,000 steps."

Both of her stepsons had a basketball coach throughout their high-school careers named James Forni who was diagnosed with melanoma at 28 years old.

"James fought bravely for eight years, never missing practices, never missing games and always available for his students whenever they needed him," recalled Hayworth. "He had endorsed his mantra, the Italian term 'Vincero' — which means 'I will win' or 'I will be victorious.' This was his way of teaching his students that in life, you will be faced with many struggles, but if you live your way and you live well, you will have been victorious."

She emphasized that although James died at the young age of 36, his memory lives on through many cancer walks and fundraisers and a scholarship that was established in his name.

Hayworth does not battle cancer, but she has her own physical challenges — as she has multiple sclerosis (MS).

"A few years ago, I was with my older son when he got a tattoo that was in memory of his coach (a basketball with Vincero in the middle)," she said. "I really liked the font he chose and asked the artist if he could give me a tattoo with the same font (but change the O to the symbol for multiple sclerosis). Thus, being a daily reminder of my own disease but an even stronger reminder that if I live my life my way, I am victorious."

Hayworth said that she loves that the Relay For Life event covers cancer in every aspect.

"We honor and celebrate those who have bravely fought and survived cancer no matter if it was 25 years ago, one year ago, or if they are currently fighting," she said. "During this event, we also have the opportunity to talk about the lives of those who have passed on before us by telling their stories or lighting a candle in the luminaria ceremony. I believe it is such an important way to show our respect for them and maybe promote a little bit of healing through the process of remembering."

This year, Hayworth wanted to create a piece of furniture that captured the "Strength & Courage" that she has witnessed by so many of the participants involved. It is meant to be a reminder of the beauty of life and the strength and courage displayed by so many who have battled cancer and won but also to honor those who have lost their battle.

"It became a goal this year to do my part in the fundraising efforts, and I am hoping to raise money to support cancer research and treatment. ALL monies collected will go directly to the American Cancer Society."

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