BY MIRANDA WHITWORTH Contributing writer
The Help Cupid Shoot Out Cancer dinner Friday is a post-Valentine's Day celebration that's giving attendees a chance to prolong the romance while helping one family in their fight against cancer.
Proceeds from the event will benefit a Relay for Life group --Team Hope -- in their efforts to raise money for the May event.
The team, made up of a closeknit group of friends and family, has participated in Relay for Life off and on for several years, but efforts kicked into high gear in 2010 when three family members were diagnosed with cancer in a six-month period.
Teresa Martinez was the first member of the team to receive devastating news when her daughter Madelyn -- 13 months old at the time -- was experiencing chronic ear pain. A subsequent seizure required a trip to the emergency room.
"We found out she didn't have an ear infection and that there was something going on neurologically. We had to take her to Children's Hospital in Madera, and within five days we found out she had cancer."
Madelyn was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a condition that attacks the nervous system and most often occurs in infants. Two month later, Martinez's cousin Jorge Montes was diagnosed with testicular cancer and that summer, Martinez's aunt, Judy Colbert, received word that she had breast cancer.
The domino effect was devastating for relatives, Martinez said, but it also served to galvanize them.
"We had been taking part in Relay for Life but not that consistently. After all of that we decided that we really needed to do something. So ever since 2010, we have been really hitting it hard to raise as much money as we can to help find a cure."
Madelyn, Jorge and Judy are now cancer free, but that good news hasn't put Team Hope's efforts on the back burner.
Though the Valentine's dance is a first for Team Hope, the family is experienced at turning parties into major fundraisers. The group hosts a pub crawl every March, bringing hundreds together for a good time and a good cause, and members sell candy and other items throughout the year. Martinez said the hard work really adds up.
"Last year with the pub crawl and all of the other stuff we did we were able to raise about $9,000 and this year, because of the dance, we really want to raise about $15,000. That's our goal."
Martinez added that Team Hope will donate a portion of the proceeds raised to local radio personality and breast cancer survivor Nikki Reyes.
"We heard about her condition last fall and we just really wanted to help her pay her medical bills. So we are going to give some of the money we raise at the dance and our upcoming pub crawl to her."
With their eyes on Friday and their Relay for Life efforts, Team Hope has a new reason to target cancer: a fourth member of the family has been diagnosed.
"This year my grandmother was diagnosed with stage four cancer and it has been super hard on all of us. But we are such a closeknit family we know that we can get through this and we want to be able to help other families that are going through this as well."
The Nile has donated the use of the venue and the dinner, a traditional meal of enchiladas, rice and beans.