Relaying Hope



Tori Degen, and her mother, both cancer survivors, walking the survivors lap during last weekend's Relay for Life at El Morro Elementary.

Survivors celebrate putting the darkness of cancer behind them

Tori Degen was 10 when she first noticed her abdomen getting larger, and upon a subsequent visit to the doctor was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She underwent chemotherapy for a summer then was declared cancer free, until two years later when she was 16 and uterine cancer was discovered at a routine checkup. This time surgery to remove the tumor was successful. After two diagnosis and eight years of being cancer-free, the now 24-year-old Laguna Beach resident walks the Relay for Life survivors lap arm in arm with her mother for her fifth time.

The American Cancer Society’s 10th  Relay for Life, held Aug. 6-7, lasted 24 hours and encompassed events spanning from daytime relay games to contests to pitching tents for the long night. Twenty-four teams and 266 participants each kept a member on the El Morro Elementary track at all times, even in the small hours of the morning.

Relay star Rick Gardner, whose mother passed away from cancer, walked the entire 24 hours, a cumulative 60 miles. Leading the final “Fight Back” lap, Gardner was an exemplar cheered on by runners and spectators alike, receiving the gold sneaker for his prowess as an inspiration in the fight against cancer.

Survivor lap led by Relay queen Julie Pendleton kicks off the relay.

“We are here for 24 hours because cancer never sleeps,” were the words of motivation, repeated by announcers and relayers alike.

A local 25-year resident, Julie Pendleton served as this year’s Relay queen. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer last July, Pendleton has since undergone successful surgery and chemotherapy. A recent CAT scan showed no evidence of cancer.

The community fundraiser also serves as a way to teach your children the importance of giving to others, said Pendleton, whose Three Arch Bay team raised a stellar $7,000, putting them in first place for fundraising.

“When you give to the American Cancer Society you know that someone isn’t getting a yacht,” said Pendleton about the society’s programs that include research, aiding families without funds for treatment, and assisting the needs of cancer patients.

The individual fundraisers, Ken Harris and Ali Hawthorne.

Ali Hawthorne, the relay’s second-best individual fundraiser with over $1,100, didn’t get a wink of sleep by running activities and keeping the teams pumped up. Hawthorne and event chair Lauren Harris were members of team Positively Pink, who expressed their “addiction” to relay as an infectious force of community volunteerism.

“Relay is something you can’t necessarily explain; it’s something you have to experience,” Hawthorne said.

Spirits and hearts were lifted to begin their 24-hour journey after Degen concluded her opening ceremony speech. “It is daylight and you are in remission,” she said. “You have your life back and you have made it through the night and the darkness. You celebrate life in the daylight knowing that the darkness of night is behind you.”

Other relay stars included Nathan’s Runner’s Circle, who walked and ran a cumulative total of 455 miles, and raised $2,400, third in team fundraising. Team Double Impact earned second place, raising over $2,500.

Rick Gardner leading the Relay in the Fight Back lap.

The top fundraising individuals included first place winner and member of team Three Arch Bayers, Ken Harris, who raised over $3,200.  Third place went to Tory Thomas from the Laguna Beach Rotary Club, who raised $950.

The Laguna Relay for Life has until Aug. 31 to reach its goal of raising over $55,000.


Intern Hayley Toler attends Cal State Fullerton.

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