Phyllis Lester and fellow cancer survivors line up to begin the fourth annual Walk for Hope Cancer Walk at Cielo Grande, Friday evening. (Mark Wilson Photo)
The sea of pink, red and blue T-shirts gathered around the stage at Cielo Grande Park Friday night during the biggest community rally yet in support of cancer victims and survivors during the fourth annual Walk for Hope.
The day started out blustery, with organizers fighting a chilly wind as they set up the fields for the estimated 5,000 community members expected to arrive. But after a brief downpour, the sun appeared in time for the show to begin.
“I want to thank everybody who came out here tonight,” said event founder Julie Morrow told the crowd. “Everyone who came out here when it was pouring. As usual, God is good. It is a beautiful night and we are ready to start this party!”
Some special survivors were escorted in front of the stage, rumbling in via the motorcycles of the Patriot Guard Riders. A Youth ChalleNGe Academy Color Guard of Roswell presented the colors during a singing of the national anthem. And a prayer was said, asking for healing, courage for those battling the disease and peace for families affected.
Morrow has given countless hours for the Walk for Hope, a fundraiser that has collected an estimated $118,000 for the Chaves County Cancer Fund to provide financial assistance to locals diagnosed with cancer. The money pays for medicine, travel and other expenses for cancer patients.
In 2010, its first year, the event stirred $20,000 in donations with 1,800 people attending. In 2011, $40,000 was collected. Last year, $58,000 was collected and some 3,500 walkers joined the event.
More than 32 major sponsors donated to this year’s event. Organizers printed 2,700 T-shirts prior to the walk, but had sold nearly all by event day.
Eduardo Rangel and his family stood by his son, Adrian, a cancer survivor for the past nine years, and his wife and young daughter during the opening ceremony.
“It’s a celebration,” Rangel said. “We know what they go through. When he had it … it was a trying period. We’re celebrating with everyone else out here. Hopefully someday they’ll find a cure.”
Just as the party atmosphere began to slow, a guitar solo rang out from the stage with “The Survivor Song.” All those in red shirts with the word “Survivor” imprinted on it gathered at the start of the path — some holding on to loved-one’s hands, some pushed in wheelchairs by others — with heads high, they walked a slow pace to the words of the emotional song around the park.
They circled the crowd of busy children in the middle of the scene, kicking soccer balls and playing in the grass.
At their backs in support, was an ever-growing crowd of community supporters in a sea of pink signaling the start of the night’s march.
Dr. Masoud Khorsand of Kymera Independent Physicians, a continuous supporter of the event, said he gets emotional every year when he sees his patients in the “survivor” crowd as they walk past.
“I’ve never set roots anywhere before,” Khorsand said. “This is the longest place I’ve lived.”
Dr. Vyas Dake, a primary physician with Khorsand, said he focuses on prevention and looking at early-stage care with preventative work and regular check-ups.
“IF you are healthy, don’t wait until you are sick to come see us,” Dake said.
By making simple changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise, cancer risks can be cut drastically, Khorsand said.
All money that goes to the Chaves County Cancer Fund is dispersed to cancer patients who live in the county. The money pays for mortgages, rent, utilities and some medications. It also helps them travel for treatments.
Many teams lined the fences, selling cupcakes, cookies, hot dogs, hamburgers and other merchandise.
Team Rufina displayed a table full of white-iced cupcakes with pink ribbons in support of the matriarch of the family who survived breast cancer three years prior.
Her daughter, Glenda Salina, said her mother is now in remission but the family continues to “do whatever we can to put the word out that we’re there and to help.”
“We try to do it every year,” Salina said.
Team Berrendo of Berrendo Elementary School, showed up with more than 100 members in support of a kindergartner who struggles with the disease.