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By BRENDA BAILEY
What a great Relay for Life. Although I've been "eligible" to attend the last two years, this year's event on May 5-6 was the first that I've chosen to not only participate in, but to make an all-out effort to raise funds for my team to meet its fundraising goal of $25,000. The mostly festive atmosphere was a real celebration of life. The enthusiasm of all participants, renewing of friendships and the camaraderie was uplifting. Those who were remembered for their struggles were reminders to us all to not take life for granted as well as not to wait for just the right time to do or go to a special thing or place. Most celebrated life and embraced the event. It was a tremendous effort by everyone and a sight to behold. Along with the celebration came the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good: The good was endless, all day long. Smiling faces, honoring family members and friends that had faced past struggles with cancer, remembering their lives and persevering onward, making a difference today for those struggling tomorrow, networking at this Relay for Life to make next year's event bigger and better. Gaining insight from our teammates and hearing stories of survival. We are not only survivors, but the warriors of tomorrow.
The bad: Survivors are those who have beaten cancer, those currently undergoing treatment and those who needed assistance to complete the survivors' lap. These details need to be remembered next year when it is time for speeches. Survivors stood in the sun nearly 30 minutes while Proposition 29, a proposed tobacco tax, was touted and statistics were read. Believe me: We are survivors, and we know statistics better than you give us credit for. The high school kids did a great job with their presentation on the initiative, but I don't believe that it needed to be promoted while survivors stood waiting for the survivors' lap to begin. It is a celebration by and for the survivors. Have some survivors onstage. Let them tell of an adventure in life that will be uplifting to us all and encourage us to fight the fight. Let us speak to those with whom we are "brothers" and "sisters." We not only have survived, we can help one another with inspiration and courage.
The ugly: The children assisting with the parking arrangements. I have no complaints about the backlog of cars. I was fortunate enough to be able to get to the site at 6 a.m. Getting into the parking lot was no problem at that time, but I can understand how it became such a mess for everyone else. Survivors were told that they'd have "preferred parking." For quite a few, that didn't happen. I am a survivor and have a placard. I was ushered to the "back forty" at 6 a.m. I had assumed that my reward for arriving early would be up-close parking. It makes sense and is logical to fill spots close and work your way to the outer perimeter, not the other way around. I'm not complaining -- I did get close after one child wasn't able to answer "Is anyone available to make a decision?" (He was the fifth one I'd asked about parking toward the front and the fifth that didn't have an answer.)
A young woman in a red American Cancer Society shirt was attempting to clear a path through the crowd on the track for the survivors in golf carts and a horse-drawn wagon. She tried to accomplish this by repeatedly stating, "You people need to stop giving that s--- out," referring to items that onlookers were handing out to the survivors as the survivors made their lap around the track and exchanged hugs. Really? I was shocked by her manners (or lack thereof). Volunteers ought to know how to handle themselves in a public venue. I'm just sayin'.
Other than that, good job to everyone! The Relay was heartwarming, a great focus on community and an experience that everyone needs to participate in next year. Way to go with the fundraising. What an example of community awareness. It was, is and will be the best of Bakersfield. This is a community that pulls together.
I am not only a survivor; I am tomorrow's warrior!
Brenda S. Bailey of Bakersfield retired as a county employee two years ago, shortly after the death of her 23-year-old son from advanced kidney cancer in 2009. She is a two-year breast cancer survivor.