By Jonathan Smith/Garden Grove Journal
A hot, scorching sun did not deter Melanie Brese from entering the Garden Grove High football stadium Saturday morning.
Along with other volunteers, Brese spent most of her day boiling hot weather at an event with a topic that she knew too well.
It was the 30-year breast cancer survivors first time participating in a “Relay for Life” and she was not going to miss it.
“It’s my first time,” she said. “It’s all new to me, but it’s been fun. It’s interesting.”
“We have a very, very nice response from the Garden Grove community,” she added “I give them all the credit for their hard work.”
Runners, walkers and volunteers packed the stadium as they participated in the Garden Grove Relay for Life event.
Sponsored by the Garden Grove chapter, the event serves to raise awareness about the different cancer diseases and also helps fundraise for the American Cancer Society.
The event offered various entertaining and educational activities for people to enjoy. Popular tunes like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” could be heard blaring across the entire as runners and walkers from all skill levels participated in the 24-hour marathon.
Local residents even got a chance to send Garden Grove Councilman Steve Jones into a dunk tank.
On the night side, a special “luminaria” ceremony was held to kick off the overnight camping side of the relay. The event serves to remember the people who have died of cancer. The event featured Miss Garden Grove and a choir comprised of cancer survivors.
Before the ceremony, participants were able to create personalized bags to honor someone they knew who died of cancer.
The bags each received a candle that was lit and lined up around the track during the ceremony.
Twenty-eight official teams participated in the event. Many of the teams wore matching shirts and had specialized booths, featuring different fundraising offerings that went to raise money for the non-profit organization.
Participants were encouraged to camp out and continue walking until the closing ceremony at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Brese’ headed the cancer survivors’ booth, which featured pampering amenities for the disease survivors. Participants received free pedicures and manicures, as well as massages and the much needed shady canopy away from the sun.
The booth’s purposed was to give support to the cancer survivors who attended, Brese said.
Brese recalled her own experience with cancer after being diagnosed with the disease. She described the initial ordeal as “scary.”
“I was terrified,” she said. “Very uneducated in that degree.”
“It was the love of my friends and family that got me through it,” she added. “They were awesome.”
Brese’s experience with breast cancer led her to the American Cancer Society, she said.
Brese said the American Cancer Society and events like Relay for Life offers the education people need to know about the disease
“When I went through mind (cancer treatment), I didn’t have anything like this,” she said. “Now people have so much information available to them. All they have to do is reach out.”
Besides Brese’s booths, other booths lined the grass of the field and featured several fun activities.
Walgreens District 213 of Orange County provided the popular dunk tank for participants.
America Obeid, an operations trainer for the Walgreen’s district, said that the district has been sponsoring Orange County Relay for Life events for three years.
“It’s just a great cause that we always like to support,” she said. “And this is one of those events that you see the impact immediately.”
Sunjay Sedani, a community leader for the Walgreens’ district, shared Obeid sentiments.
“We all know someone that has been touch by cancer in some way,” he said. “It’s just one of things that relates to everybody.”
The goal for Walgreens was to raise $3,000 which was reached prior to Saturday’s event, Obeid said.
The Garden Grove Boxing and MMA Gym offered participants a chance to spar in a large boxing ring or compete in a fitness challenge.
The gym’s manager, Yazmin Diaz said the gym got involved after being approached by the Garden Grove Relay for Life.
Another team sponsor, rightfully dubbed the “Wolf Gang,” decked their entire booth in black décor. Even wolf howls could be heard from travelling walkers who passed the booth.
The team’s captain, Gonzalo Zubiria, said his team’s name was a tribute to the first summer his team met each other.
“We all met in 2010, and we only came out at night,” he said.
Each booth featured a factoid of a specific cancer disease and the Wolf Gang created a poster board about melanoma and even offered free sunscreen.
Linda Wochner, the event chair, said the Garden Grove has hosted Relay for Life events in the past and the chapter is bringing them back as a mainstay.
“We started with two people and it has grown to 300 participants,” Wochner said. “We have lots of volunteers. Lots of community support from the city.”
A twice breast cancer survivor herself, Wochner said that the experience is something you have to live through.
“You just get through it one day at a time,” she said. “You really do.”
The total donation numbers are still being calculated but the event raised more than $24,000, Wochner said. And there are plans to be back next year.
“We’re coming back,” she said. “We have a lot of people that want to come back next year.”