Originally published in print and online at The Auburn Journal August 13, 2009
Julia Wallace has a motto for the fight against cancer: “There is no finish line until we find a cure.”
She and her team will start walking on Saturday for 24 hours in hopes of helping reach that goal.
Wallace is one of the many members of the Auburn community who will take part in the Relay for Life, an annual event put on by the American Cancer Society. This year, participants will be taking turns with their team members walking laps at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn to remember those they’ve lost to cancer, and to raise money to continue the fight.
Each team is required to have a member walking on the track at all times. The walkers don’t sleep, “representing the reality that cancer never sleeps,” according the American Cancer Society Web site.
Wallace and her team, “Alyssa’s Walking Angels,” will walk in memory of her son, Garret L. Wallace, whom she lost to leukemia in March, and in support of her granddaughter Alyssa. Eleven-year-old Alyssa was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 6, and has since endured chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and surgery in her five-year fight with medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor most often diagnosed in children.
Wallace first participated in 2004, and for her the walk has become more than just a fundraiser.
“It helps to walk the anger off,” she said.
She works year-round to raise awareness for her own family’s struggle, and for the American Cancer Society. For family members like Wallace and for cancer survivors, the relay serves not only as a means of raising money, but as a place to connect with and support one another.
“The camaraderie is amazing … I’m among friends, people who care, people who understand,” she said. “I’m so grateful for all the help we’ve received. I feel obligated, in a good way, to repay the help we’ve gotten.”
Wallace says she was asked to read a poem at the ceremony, but feels she won’t be able to get through the entire piece. Instead, she plans to read a quote from the movie “Generation Gap” – a quote that she lives by.
“Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal, but love leaves memories that no one can steal.”
Those looking to support Wallace and others who’ve been affected by cancer can come out and participate in the event on Saturday, or make a donation online.
Organizers promise walkers and their supporters will get a lot out of this year’s relay. Relay Chairwoman Kim Lightfoot said that in addition to the walk itself, several events are planned to get the community involved. She encourages those so inclined to join in the Relay Runway, where participants create and model outfits from Relay for Life T-shirts, or to stop by and listen to some live music from the Dark Island Trio and the RJ Blues Band.
Janet Longoria, the relay co-chairwoman, invites those who wish to get involved to participate in the Luminaria Ceremony. For $10 a candle can be purchased to be lit during the ceremony in memory of someone who has passed, or to honor someone who is still fighting. At 9 p.m. on Saturday the lighted candles will line the track for the walkers.
In addition to an increase in new teams, the relay has seen an increase in support from local businesses this year, Lightfoot said. Best Buy’s Auburn store will support the event this year, with their own team of employees walking and a raffle with their products as prizes.
Other local businesses are also stepping up with their own teams. Walgreens and Starbucks will be among the local stores whose employees will hit the track on Saturday, while local restaurant Luigi’s Pastaria will be providing lunch. For dinner, the Auburn Masonic Family will raise money to fight cancer serving tacos at the fairgrounds.
“The community can come on down and participate,” Lightfoot said. “Just take a walk around the lap and visit the teams. It’s very touching, very moving.”
Wallace encourages everyone to come out to the fairgrounds on Saturday as well.
“We’ll be walking, partying, crying, laughing,” she said. “It will be great.”
Published online at AuburnJournal.com