Community gears up for Relay for Life

By Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor

Every time Kevin Gardels plays his songs about his battle with cancer, he likes to think it’s meaningful to at least one new person.
This week, Gardels wants it to be meaningful towards a friend who died of cancer, as Portales residents will take steps of their own in the worldwide battle against cancer at this weekend’s Relay for Life.
The two-day event, which starts Friday afternoon at Greyhound Arena and runs through Saturday morning, will feature about 27 teams and 600 participants who will walk during the event and have done fund-raising leading up to it.
Opening ceremonies for the event will be 6 p.m. Friday.
There was not a Relay for Life in 2004, and numbers varied on the two previous events. The 2002 relay had 40 teams and raised $38,000, while the 2003 event had 13 teams and raised $14,000.
The number of expected teams for the 2005 relay, 27, is exactly between the number of teams for 2002 and 2003. Still, County Chair Mandi Park thinks those teams should be able to help raise the goal of $50,000.
“We have about the same number of people on bigger teams. Bigger teams don’t necessarily mean more money, but we’ve got different ideas and different (approaches).”
Park said that she originally viewed the event as a time to honor survivors like Gardels. Now that she’s experienced the full preparation for the event, her views are changed.
“The first time I ever participated was in 2000,” Park said. “I just went and walked and didn’t really get involved in any fund-raising. I just saw it as a celebration of survivorship.
“Now I see it as the same celebration … but more as a fund-raising event.”
Much of Friday night and Saturday morning will be dedicated to survivors of cancer. Team members will walk laps around a track in Greyhound Arena throughout the event, and the first lap is reserved for survivors.
Gardels, a survivor of myelofibrosis, will sing from his album, “God’s Hands,” at 8 p.m. Friday to help start the luminaria ceremony. Gardels said that the album is about how his relationship with God got him through his battle with cancer.
Gardels plays music every Sunday at St. Helen’s Catholic Church, and said that he is dedicating today’s session and some of Friday’s selections to Randy Moore. Moore died Sept. 1, 2004, of lung cancer.
“He was just involved,” Gardels said about Moore. “He gave me two or three jobs throughout my career in radio in the 80s. He was always selling (advertising) for somebody.
“He was a media-savvy guy. He never had a bad thing to say about anybody. He started every meeting with a joke. He’d make you laugh, and you got out there and worked.”
Cancer takes on many different forms, as Gardels can attest. Some are simple enough to treat that the patient might only miss a few days of work. Gardels, meanwhile, lost 140 pounds, had a bone-marrow transplant and had his immune system weakened to the point that a common cold may kill him.
Gardels does accept the possibility that cancer may never be cured, but feels the event is a good idea because research may at last save lives in the process.
“I went through a process, a bone marrow transplant, that wasn’t done seven years ago. It’s in the six of seven years that it’s become possible, through the research. That’s why it’s so important to support the research.”
Several groups are doing different things before the relay for fund-raising — a team with members working at Roosevelt General Hospital recently had a chili cookoff, while a group called Dining Out Darlings will raffle off donated gift certificates to area restaurants.
During the relay, other fund-raisers are planned. Park said that Cheri Quinn, an associate professor of education at Eastern New Mexico University, will donate one inch of her hair to Locks of Love for each $100 she can raise, up to 12 inches.
Also at the event will be a silent auction, where any participant may donate items to purchase. Anybody can bid on the items, Park said, regardless of whether or not they are participating in Relay for Life.
A team meeting is set to go from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Greyhound Arena. Team leaders can stop by at any time during the meeting to pick up team T-shirts and receive final instructions.
Park said it’s probably too late to enter another team, but individuals could still try to join current teams.