Knocking out disease

When Bill Howard retired he had 247 sick days racked up.

"I just never got sick," he simply says.

But four years into his retirement he got an odd feeling — he started feeling ill. It puzzled him because, "I've always been very healthy."

When the 63-year-old Huntington Beach resident went to the doctors he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Then, just three weeks later, the doctors told him he had prostate cancer.

A few months of chemotherapy and the removal of his prostate appears to have knocked out the disease, he says. July 18, 2006. That's the day he was declared cancer-free.

So, nearly a year later, Howard's looking forward to walking laps at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life at Huntington Beach High School.

"I'm doing really well. I'm back to living the lifestyle I was living before."

The event's opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, and the relay will conclude at 10 a.m. Sunday. Teams of walkers, many cancer survivors and their loved ones, will take turns strolling along the track for those 24 hours to raise money for cancer research. Twenty-one teams have signed up, Cassandra Tomes, an American Cancer Society representative said.

Brad Vongrote and Mary Collins of Huntington Beach, who organized this year's event, will lead the opening ceremony and lead off the survivor lap.

One of those survivors will be Vivian Tondreaut, 60, of Long Beach, who has twice beaten back cancer. This is Tondreaut's first relay. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and it was removed, but it came back in 2003 and she needed more surgery. She credits a timely mammogram for her survival.

"Had I gone in for the screening any earlier, they wouldn't have spotted it," Tondreaut said. "Had I gone in a year from then, it would have been terminal."

The always-touching Luminaria ceremony honoring those who were not so fortunate will be held at 9 p.m. Saturday. Raffle and auction winners will be announced at 10 p.m.

The kids can stay occupied with a bounce house and other organized activities for them on Saturday. Later that night, a family-friendly midnight movie will be screened.

And if walkers get a knot or cramp, massage therapist Art Sanchez will be available to lend a helping hand.

On Sunday morning, the Lion's Club will serve up a pancake breakfast.

Awards will be given out for the top fundraisers, best-decorated camp sites, and the most prolific walkers. Organizers are aiming to raise $75,000 this year, Tomes said. Last year, the fundraiser pulled in $48,000.

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