Walkers brave storm clouds to march for Relay for Life

Paul Zimmerman lights a candle Friday night at the Relay for Life to honor his father, who lost his battle with cancer. Zimmerman was one of 159 members on the ENMRSH team, which raised more than $9,000 in the event.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Her daughter by her side, Birdina Lavere struggled to keep her voice even, her eyes clear, as she recalled her triumph over a disease.

“I wasn’t ready to die,” she said. “I wanted to raise my three children.”

Lavere was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago when her stomach swelled to the size of a basketball, one of the first signs of the disease. With treatment, she went into remission. But fear of a relapse still plagues her.

She prays someday a cure for the disease will be found.

That goal seemed a little closer for Lavere and the sea of people who attended the 11th Annual Clovis Relay for Life, which kicked off Friday evening and capped off Saturday morning.

“It means a lot to know there is support. Even if a cure for cancer isn’t found, maybe we could find a way to make the treatments a little easier on people,” Lavere said.

The American Cancer Society event raised more than $64,000 for cancer education and research, according to volunteers. That amount matches closely with funds raised last year. However, fund-raising for the event will continue throughout the week, volunteers said.

Rain clouds cleared from the sky Friday minutes before the launch of the relay, and two rainbows arched over the crowd that gathered in Ned Houk Park for the event. In spite of tumultuous weather forecasts Friday, hundreds were drawn to the event.

“We prayed for this,” said Rebecca Holt, Relay for Life Vendor Chair, as the sun peeked through the clouds. The pony-tailed Holt braved rain showers that returned later in the night, remaining at the relay until Saturday morning.

Like many who participate in the American Cancer Society fund-raiser, Holt has been bruised by cancer.

The disease left her motherless at the age of 8. Her sister was diagnosed with the disease and fought it, while her father died of lung cancer four years ago.

She and her eight siblings attend the relay — notoriously plagued by inclement weather, either chilling cold, biting winds or rain — religiously.

So does Pam Firestone.

The Clovis resident has attended the event for five consecutive years, ever since her parents survived cancer. She and her relay team of about 20 commit to walking along the winding path laid out in Ned Houk Park for 12 hours. Often, team members split the task into shifts, relay attendees said.

“We will stay strong,” said Firestone, moments before the relay began.

Her determination was reflected in the faces of others assembled in the park. And in sheer numbers.

According to Relay for Life Chairwoman Kay Prater, who just began chemotherapy to shrink the malignant tumor in her body, the 11th annual relay was among the strongest.

More teams registered to walk this year than last year, she said. There were 65 relay teams in all, representing a potpourri of local families, businesses and organizations. Last year, the largest teams were divided, creating a total of 75. This year, they were not, Prater said.

“I’ve been to many, many relays,” said American Cancer Society District Executive Director Geraldine Esquivel, who spoke to the crowd twice, at the start and at end of the relay.“and this is one of the best I have seen.”