Hundreds of Orange County residents, some in memory of those dear to them, others in the name of survivors, walked around the race track at Orange Coast College on Saturday, kicking off Relay for Life.
In what is beginning to turn into a popular, annual 24-hour event to raise money for cancer research, they turned out in large numbers to participate. Some ran around the track. Others walked. Just about everybody had fun doing it, knowing it was for a good cause.
The highlight came a few hours after night fell, when hundreds of candles were placed around the track to light the way and symbolizing the great numbers of those who have either died from cancer or have beaten it down.
Shadow Lane, 18, whose younger brother, Deacon, died of bone cancer at the age of 6 in 2001, was trying to walk the entire 24 hours without stopping, a fete the fit teenager completed last year.
"Usually, what I say is that I come out here for my brother, but really I'm walking out here for everybody," said Lane while taking a moment to stop and answer a few questions. "I always ask myself, 'Why was it my brother and not me?'"
He added: "If I could swap places, I would."
Lane's type of spirit was evident in just about everybody at the fundraising event, which is held by the American Cancer Society and whose proceeds, in excess of an expected $70,000 this year, will go directly to cancer research, said Ted Braxton, director of Relay for Life for the Orange County region.
Across the county each year, there are roughly 34 similar events, 31 of them in the communities and three at various colleges, he said.
So far, nine have been completed, including Saturday's event at Orange Coast College, he said.
The continuous display of teams whose members gather and whose mission is to walk nonstop collectively has turned out to be the No. 1 fundraiser in cancer research "second only to the federal government," Braxton said.
He said last year alone the Relays for Life in the U.S. raised $385 million, all of which went directly to scientists who conduct research on the possible cures and examine the countless causes and effects of the disease.
As for the biggest single fundraiser held in Orange County, Braxton said the honor belongs to Irvine, which last year brought in $204,000 for its Relay for Life.
While no hands-down cure for all cancers is in the near future, inroads have been made over the years, particularly among "blood cancers" and "lymphomas," said Braxton, adding that some of those cancers can be 96% curable if detected in time.
In all, a total 35 teams were on hand to walk around the track at OCC, and Bev McKeehan, the team captain for Orange Coast Middle College High School, was holding out hope that at least a dozen more teams would show up later in the evening.
"My mom, my dad, our principal ... So many of us know somebody who's had cancer," said McKeehan. "And each year we come out here and try to raise more money than we did last year."
A total of 22 members belong to McKeehan's team, all of whom showed up and started walking around the track early in the morning, receiving a bead on a necklace for each mile they walk.
Joseph Krisatofl, 43, of Costa Mesa, said he was walking around the track to remember his father, Ferdinand, who died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 68.
His uncle also succumbed to the sometimes deadly disease.
"Cancer doesn't sleep," he said. "So we should always keep walking while we can, if that's what it takes to raise money."