Relay For Life: ‘Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.’

Last Saturday, June 24th at 10am began the 18th annual Rohnert Park-Cotati Relay For Life at Sally Tomatoes event center Sonoma Mountain Village.  Relay For Life is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that is so much more.  It is a life-changing event that is about community celebrating the lives of people who have battled cancer and survived, remembering loved ones who have lost the battle, and thanking the care givers who have helped them through this stressful process.

Relay For Life is an awesome event!  An up lifting experience!  I recommend the program to everyone, particularly if you, your loved ones, or close friends have an experience with cancer.  The Rohnert Park-Cotati Relay is usual the 3rd or 4th weekend in June.  You can find other Relay events at different dates and places.  For more information, see

The event is based on teams of people who camp out overnight and take turns walking or running around a path for 24 hours from Saturday morning to Sunday morning.   A representative of each team is on the track at all times because ‘cancer never sleeps’. Relay for life celebrates survivor ‘Birthdays’.  Birthdays begin from the date of original cancer diagnosis.   I am celebrating my 12th birthday by surviving colorectal cancer, discovered on May 15, 2005.

Relay For Life began in May of 1985, when Dr. Gordy Klatt , a colorectal surgeon, took his first step on a 24-hour marathon run [83 miles in total] around a Tacoma, Washington track to show his dedication to finding a cure for cancer and raising $27,000 for the America Cancer Society. Since then, Relay for Life has become a worldwide movement to end cancer.  Each year, more than 3.5 million people in over 4,500+ communities in the U.S. gather to raise much-needed funds and awareness to save lives from cancer.  The event has spread to over 20 other countries and raised over $3 billion dollars.  Our own local Relay has raised over one million dollars since it’s inception in 1989.

The Rohnert Park-Cotati Relay is located in a beautiful, protected setting with both sun and shade trees, a paved perimeter-walking path and event stage.At registration, survivors are given a purple tee shirt; this years theme written on the shirt says: “WE ARE THE COURAGEOUS.  WE ARE THE PASSIONATE. WE ARE THE DETERMINED.  WE ARE HOPE.”

The event begins with inspirational short speeches, followed by vibrant singing of the National Anthem, and then the walk begins with cancer survivors leading the way.  In 2009, I had the honor of being a speaker at the event as a cancer survivor.  This year I was pleased to presented a $500 check from the Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati.  To date, this years Rohnert Park- Cotati Relay has raised over $50,000.  August 30, 2017 is last day of this year’s fund raising, so it is not too late to contribute.

There are many touching stories, poems, and songs throughout The Relay.  Each year at the event, I meet so many wonderful people with their own challenging cancer stories.  Many have positive survivor results, like mine.  But others were not so lucky and their love ones have come to celebrate and remember their lives.

Throughout the event there is great music, food, and activities.  One of the highlights each year is the Luminaria Ceremony.  Luminaria bags are decorated to honor survivors and to remember lost love ones.  Each bag is filled with a canned food item to raise the height of a candle in the bag to be lit and illuminated.  After the event, the canned goods are donated to the NOAH food bank for distribution to Rohnert Park needy families.

Ever year I make a bag in honor of my cousin Steve Malkemus.  Steve and I were the same age and grew up together.  He was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 47 and died at 51.  Steve was a wonderful man and I still miss him. At dark, the luminaria are lit.  Thousands of luminaria encompassed the entire perimeter of the park.  It is a beautiful, inspirational sight, walking the path and seeing all the names and color designs on the luminaria.  A few years ago, a full moon was rising over the eastern mountains as the luminaria glowed.  A peacefully lit sign with the word HOPE shined just below the rising full moon– breath-taking!

Along with the luminaria ceremony, the evening program includes testimonials, poems, songs, live music, electric light parade, and late night movies.  9:30 am on Sunday morning, the closing ceremony takes place including the Hokey Pokey.  At 10 am the event closes with a Group Celebration Last Lap.   The goodwill and dedication of the participants, volunteers, donors and organizers is amazing.  A special thanks to the event leadership team headed by Ruth Fitzsimmons and including Lisa Collodi, Tina Hansen, Amanda Clark, Barbara Clark, Janice Chamberlain and Carolyn Foster.

The “no complaints”, “no regrets”, and “move on” attitude of the person with cancer is an admirable quality. Cancer prevention involves basically living a healthy life.  But even living a perfectly healthy life is no guaranty of avoiding cancer. Awareness and funding of cancer is having an effect.  The importance of early detection and screening for cancer and anti-smoking campaigns are leading the way.  Cancer deaths in the United States and Sonoma County have fallen for the last few years after years of steady increase.  Deaths decreased in three major cancers – breast, prostate, and colorectal.  Lung cancer decreased for men but had a slight increase in women.   Combinations of factors are responsible for the cancer death decline, including an increase in early detection, more effective treatments due to continual research and a decrease in cigarette smoking among men.  A wider and earlier screening for colon, prostate and breast cancer among both men and women is particularly significant.

The American Cancer Society [ACS] is the nationwide, community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major heath problem, by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service.  Anyone, anywhere can access information and support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-227-2345 or at


George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at


2 Padre Pkwy #200, Rohnert Park, CA 94928

Phone | (707) 585-8595

Relay For Life: ‘Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.’

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