"The fight against cancer won’t be postponed"

"The fight against cancer won’t be postponed"By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

As everybody finds ways to adjust to the “new normal,” organizers of the Ridgecrest Relay for Life have found a way forward and will still hold the annual fundraising event on the first weekend of October. Traditionally a 24-hour community gathering, this year’s fundraiser will consist of two events – a drive-through Luminaria display on Friday, October 2, followed by an online streaming event on Saturday.

“We want to make it clear that the relay is still happening and we are still fundraising,” said Ridgecrest Relay for Life Coordinator Jamie Brickey Powell. “Any amount you can provide provides hope on so many levels.”

The annual American Cancer Society fundraiser typically raises $100,000-$115,000 locally to help fund cancer research and support programs. Powell said the committee is aiming to raise at least $50,000 this year given the limitations on public gatherings.

“This year alone, ACS had to lay off more than 1,000 employees,” said Powell “For the first time in more than 100 years, ACS hasn’t been able to fully fund their research and programs. So these fundraising dollars really are critical now more than ever.”

Friday’s drive-through Luminaria display will be from 8-9 p.m. at Ridgecrest Cinemas. Cars can enter from Inyokern Road (see “Luminaria Drive-Thru Map” at relayforlife.org/ridgecrestca) to view the lighted luminary bags in honor of those fighting or in memory of those who succumbed to cancer.

Traditionally, one hour of the Relay for Life is set aside in the evening with the luminaries as the only light source as participants walk in silent reverence. “This remembrance portion of the relay is a very somber moment and tends to be one of the most impactful,” said Powell.

“From a survivor standpoint, it reminds you that ‘I didn’t do this journey by myself – there were all these people supporting me,’ said Powell’s mother Debby Brickey.

Brickey is 26 years cancer free after losing a toe to melanoma – a journey that spawned the Relay for Life Team “Ole 9 Toes.”

“At first I didn’t think I really had ‘cancer’ cancer,” said Brickey. “It was just my toe. Women were losing their boobs to breast cancer and I was just losing a toe.”

“But every type of cancer is still cancer,” added Stacie Fisher, also a cancer survivor and nurse at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. Fisher was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now 10 years cancer free.

“When you hear those words - ‘you have cancer’ - it doesn’t matter where it is,” said Fisher. “And that’s when survivorship starts in my opinion – from the moment you’re diagnosed. It’s been found. It needs to be treated. It becomes the new normal. But you also have to live your life.”

“I never thought there would be a luminaria with my name,” said Amanda Diaz, who was diagnosed in May of last year with triple-negative breast cancer – the fastest growing and most lethal of breast cancers.

Diaz had a radiation followup earlier this month and reported that she is still one-year cancer free, a major milestone in the survivorship community.

“But it was different because people weren’t allowed to bring anyone with them to their checkups,” said Diaz, due to COVID-19 concerns. “Last year for every single treatment – someone was there with me. I took for granted that I always had support. I can’t imaging having done that alone.”

“It’s so important knowing you’re not alone,” said Fisher. “You’re in the middle in it, but everybody around you is a part of it. And without my friends and family, I would have never been able to do it.”

“When you know you have to go and spend six hours hooked up to a machine, or drive out of town every day for treatments – it can be a dark time,” said Diaz. “I needed people who told me ‘you got this!’”

“It’s so important for your mental health as well,” said Brickey. “Those endorphins are a real form of medicine. Humor and laughter is what got me through. I was really down in the dumps when my family came up with ‘ole 9 toes.’ They said we just needed to laugh our way through it.”

Powell stressed that cancer treatments also must adhere to rigorous schedules and that disruptions can upend the treatments – something that has been made more difficult with the pandemic.

“My father-in-law is about to start treatment, but everything has slowed down because of COVID restrictions,” said Powell. “What they had hoped to start three months ago they’re just getting started on this week. It has become very difficult to get the treatments within the right window with no hiccups.”

Saturday’s event is from 11-noon and will be entirely virtual. Organizers will host a stream – available through Facebook Live and Zoom – featuring cancer survivor stories, survivor and caregiver celebrations, games, and more.

“The virtual Relay for Life celebration will be a one-hour experience that touches on all parts of what we would normally experience in a 24-hour relay event,” said Powell.

To donate or participate, interested parties can visit relayforlife.org/ridgecrestca. Donors can purchase Luminaria bags, join or form a team or simply submit a donation through December of this year.

Luminaria sponsors can purchase pre-decorated bags or pick up bags to personally design.

For details, contact Luminaria chairs Kathey Mattox (760) 384-3214 or Ashley Randolph (951) 956-7028. Survivors who register online will also receive a t-shirt and gift at the drive-thru event.

“It’s important now more than ever to support cancer research and raise funds,” said Powell. “The fight against cancer won’t be postponed.”

Pictured: Team “Ole’ 9 Toes” members walking in support of melanoma survivor Debby Brickey at a previous Relay for Life event. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-09-25