Volunteerism, support, motivation and recreation are a few of the components found at the heart of Relay for Life, a 24-hour cancer fundraising walk that ends this morning at Pleasanton Middle School.
"Relay is a very interesting event because you would think that, with the heavy purpose that we're all there for, it would be sad and depressing. But it's really not," local cancer survivor Sabrina Franklin said. "It's very empowering and very motivational because you see all these other people who are out there and living it."
Franklin is serving as the survivor chair for this year's relay that was run from 9 a.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday and was expected to draw dozens of teams.
Funds raised during the event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, go toward cancer research and organizations that assist patients during treatment -- such as "Road to Recovery," which pairs patients with volunteer drivers to get to medical appointments.
During Relay for Life, team members take turns walking around the school's track. The themed laps, which are developed to encourage creativity and team spirit, include Woodstock, Hawaiian/beachwear, bling your bra and country cowboy/cowgirl.
Franklin, a Relay for Life veteran, discovered the American Cancer Society during her recovery process while searching for ways to volunteer and connect with others affected by cancer.
"When I was really ill I didn't have my own light, I had to borrow it from other people. I spent a lot of time reading inspirational books and listening to really positive music and things of that nature just to pull through," she said.
Franklin was diagnosed with metastatic papillary thyroid cancer at 26 years old. By the time her cancer was identified, it had spread from her thyroid to her lymph nodes and lungs. She endured radiation treatment, surgery and neck reconstruction during her battle against the disease.
She got involved with her first Relay for Life about six years ago as Pleasanton's event chair. While planning the relay, she met other survivors who explained to her the difference between being victimized by cancer versus being a survivor, taking a step further and becoming a champion against cancer, she said.
And that advice would prove key for Franklin, who found out shortly before her first relay that her cancer had spread again and a tumor had developed at the base of her carotid artery.
She said her new support group -- with whom she built camaraderie through the American Cancer Society -- rallied behind her during the physically and emotionally strenuous battle.
The second wave of cancer prompted Franklin to see life from a new perspective and she decided to create a "bucket list."
A week before going into surgery, she completed her first list item when she went skydiving in Hawaii. After successful surgery, Franklin said she had an excellent recovery and defied the negative statistics she was previously given.
Within the last five years, Franklin has continued crossing items off her bucket list, including visiting 30 countries and starting her own business.
Also on the list was to be a survivor speaker at Relay for Life, and she is preparing to complete that goal this year at Pleasanton Middle School.
"Most of us know somebody who has been touched by cancer or we know someone whose family member has been touched by cancer. So, it's one community, one day, one event, one goal to fight back," said Larry Coy, cancer survivor and chair of the relay's "kid's camp."
Relay for Life was taking place in more than 5,000 communities across the United States, and non-governmental cancer organizations in 20 other countries receive licenses from ACS to host their own Relay for Life events.
Organizers of Relay for Life format the event to be family-oriented and a significant component is the kid's camp. Coy has been the Pleasanton kid's camp chair for five years and has designed the activities to be entertaining and educational.
Some of the kid's camp activities include toys, crafts, and various contests such as three-legged race, water balloon toss, bubble gum blowing and an event called "break the habit" in which a large cylinder filled with treats and decorated to resemble a cigarette is hung from a tree and the children have to try to break it.
The 24 hours of Relay for Life represents that cancer never rests and the sleepless nights that cancer patients endure, according to the American Cancer Society.
Coy shares a similar personal view of the daylong time-frame.
"The 24 hours can also represent the cycle of the life of a cancer patient," Coy said. "The morning hours of sunlight and beauty is life before your diagnosis, turning to dusk represents the time after diagnosis ... the fight, the uncertainty and fear, then the darkness giving way to dawn represents the hope that a cure will be found and there is light at the end of the tunnel."