Beneath the Hollister night sky at the San Benito High School football stadium, more than two hundred people walked at the Relay for Life of Hollister cancer fundraiser last weekend.
Twenty-four teams and 222 participants took part in the overnight event on Friday and Saturday.
But organizers estimate more than 300 people were in attendance.
“It’s always about fundraising,” said event co-chairman Chuck Obeso-Bradley. “We’ve done an amazing job in this little community.”
The event raised $107,832.65, just shy of the local initiative’s $110,000 goal. Donations are still being accepted online until August 31. Relay for Life of Hollister has raised $2.3 million since 2007.
“All the money goes to support cancer research,” said Jessica Ruiz, community development manager at the American Cancer Society, which spearheads the national fundraising initiative. “We also have money working locally for cancer patient services.”
Emotions ran high during the opening ceremony on Friday.
“As we come together for this fight for a cure, we want to remember each day why we relay,” said Krystal Lomanto, San Benito County school superintendent. “We relay for our survivors, we relay for the folks that are fighting right now and we relay for those that we’ve lost. Remember that as you continue on your journey from today until tomorrow.”
The event started with the Survivor’s Lap, when purple-shirted cancer survivors walk with caregivers and family members.
“I used to think I was a tough guy until I started hearing the stories of the survivors,” said Todd Leonard, team captain for Clamping for a Cure. “You realize you aren’t that tough. The people you see out here in the purple shirts, they’re the tough ones.”
Leonard has participated at the local event since 2010.
“It brings everybody together for a common cause, no matter what walk of life we come from,” he said. “We are here to raise money for cancer and show people you can get through this.”
While the local event has always been known as Relay for Life of Hollister, Obeso-Bradley said organizers are working to change the name.
“We’re a countywide event,” he explained. “We’re petitioning to change our name to Relay for Life of San Benito County. We think it more accurately reflects what we do in the community.”
Participating teams maintained booths that highlighted the theme of the event: game night. The booths featured activities inspired by mobile, board and card games.
Jennifer Szyndrowski, team captain for Nunes Family and Friends for a Cure, based her theme on the mobile game Candy Crush.
“We’re crushing cancer,” she said.
Szyndrowski has family and friends who have been diagnosed with the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates one in three women and one in two men in the U.S will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
“Over the years more of my family and friends have gotten cancer so it’s become important,” said Szyndrowski. “I’ve had two back surgeries and three spinal blocks so I have a hard time walking. But as long as I can get to the meetings and organize the team, I’m going to do this until we find a cure.”
Diana Muñoz, Fight4Life team captain and event co-chairwoman, has been participating at the Hollister event for five years.
“It takes a lot of volunteers to pull off a great Relay,” said Muñoz. “This year we had an outpouring of response from San Benito Boy Scouts, members of the Key Club, Clampers and LULAC (The League of United Latin American Citizens). We could not have done it without their support.”
Muñoz, a single mother of two children, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in December 2014. When she was 17 years old, she lost her mother to breast cancer. Others in her family have also been diagnosed with cancer.
“Over the last 15 months I’ve endured a bilateral mastectomy and my lung collapsed twice requiring two chest tubes,” she explained. “I’ve had three blood transfusions, a blood clot that required daily self injections and 16 rounds of chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery and 28 days of radiation.”
Muñoz, 36, is in surgical menopause after she had her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed last year to lower her risk of other cancers. She said as long as she is alive it is all worth it.
“My children Caden and Madison are my reason to breathe,” she said. “I will fight with every ounce of my being to be here with them.”
The Howling Huskies team chose a fishing game for their booth, which featured nautical decorations. Jean Murray, team captain, said she joined the event to support the search for a cure. Murray lost her best friend and colleague to kidney cancer.
“I think it brings a better understanding of all the aspects of what the American Cancer Society can do for you,” said Murray. “It can educate you on how to prevent cancer and the treatment that is available.”
Ruiz said Relay for Life is more than raising money.
“We want to have a safe place where we can celebrate our cancer survivors and celebrate those we lost,” she said. “When you come to the event it’s a time for you to share your story, support others going through the same process and to spread hope.”