Do The Walk, Do The Walk Of Life: Relay For Life Hollywood

Early Sunday morning, I walked in the annual Relay For Life, a 24-hour fundraising and awareness event benefiting the American Cancer Society. The event’s origins go back some 25 years, when a doctor in Washington state ran around a high school track in honor of his patients and raised $27,000 walking for 24 hours. The next year, similar events were stages across the country.

Participating in the event was significant for me as I am the son of a cancer survivor. My mother. who was diagnosed with cancer in late 1995 and successfully and miraculously had it removed a few months later herself, participates in the Revlon Run/Walk For Women which benefits women with cancer.  Two of her sisters and one of her nieces were lost to cancer.

Team EHNC's Tent

Last year, I had the opportunity to walk informally in two local Relay For Life events, one in Los Feliz and the other in Hollywood, organized by the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council’s founder, Steven Whiddon. This year for the Hollywood relay, I joined others from the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, who formed an official team which contributed $1,200 for the cause. Like last year, this event took place at Helen Bernstein High School by Sunset Blvd and Van Ness Ave. And like the previous two times, I decided to walk late at night, from 2 to 4 a.m. Not only was it more comfortable than walking in the heat of the sun, but, even in the middle of Hollywood, there’s a certain serenity and calm late at night, and, I can’t deny there’s something to me that feels spiritual, meditative and cathartic about doing this while most of the city sleeps.

Walking around in circles for two hours can get tedious, so I decided to make it meaningful. Earlier that night in a separate event, a priest shared his experience being treated for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for the past two years. Though he is in better health now, I felt inspired to do something a little more meaningful in my walk. I put out a message on Twitter and Facebook and asked my friends to name loved ones who died of cancer and I told them I would dedicate one lap to them. I got a pretty good response, and noted their names down.

The relay course was ringed with American Cancer Society signs and the hundreds of “luminaria” memorials made of glowsticks inside white paper bags with the name of a loved one written on it. Only a handful of people were walking when I arrived. At 2 a.m., fellow team members Stephen Box and Gary Robinson ended their walk and handed the reins to me. I pulled out my cellphone and sent out a Tweet/Facebook status and dedicated each lap to the following people:

Lap 1: My cousin, Ma. Ana Romanillos Redulla

Lap 2: My aunt, Fe Crecentiana Garrote Romanillos

Lap 3: My aunt, Lusvisminda Pondoc Garrote

Lap 4: My friend, “Scatman John” Larkin

Lap 5: Michael Higby’s stepdad Howard Segal

Lap 6: Tim Franks’ dad William H. Franks

Lap 7: Laurel Anderson Mueller’s mom Kathryn Anderson

Lap 8: Jay Arbolario’s uncle Will Whitby & aunt Connie Serrano

Lap 9: Ana Ibarra’s grandma Amada Ibarra-Jaurregui; Sr. Maura Ryan & Cindy DeNeve

Lap 10: Ana Ibarra’s pastor’s dad Alexander Lewis, Sr.

Lap 11: Irene Jaso’s mom Artemisa Jaso

Lap 12: Bren Bell’s grandpa George Perkins; uncle Bill Rice & aunt Micki Perkins

Lap 13: Carol Ojeda-Kimbrough’s friend Ester Soriano

Lap 14: Evan Daum’s mom, Rachael Daum

Lap 15: Billie Jean Londono’s aunt Nelly

Lap 16: Christine Jerian Kharmandalian’s uncle Varoujan Jerian

Lap 17: Christine Jerian Kharmandalian’s father in law Hagop Kharmandalian

Lap 18: Jennifer Tell’s uncle Don Tell

Lap 19: Jason Correa’s wife, Jane Ethridge Correa

Lap 20: All my mom’s nursing school classmates who lost their lives to cancer

La0 21: All those newly diagnosed with cancer

Lap 22: All those currently fighting cancer

Lap 23: All those who have survived cancer

Lap 24: My mother, Loreta Garrote Trinidad, a cancer survivor, who also started a cancer support group at her workplace.

As I walked each lap, and after I sent out my tweet, I recalled my memories with those I knew that had succumbed to cancer, and for those names submitted by my friends, I simply though about what these people meant to them, even in the most abstract way. The interesting thing was, all these people I dedicated laps to were of different ages, ethnicities, religions, ideologies, spoke different languages and came from different parts of the world, but they were all tied together by one thing.

I was told later on that each lap was a quarter of a mile, which meant I had walked six miles in those two hours. Every so often my knees would cramp, and I’d take a brief break to squat or sit, but I knew the greatest discomfort I went through in those two hours was miniscule compared to what most of these people had to go through.

Throughout the course of my walk, I was treated to cool night air, overcast skies under the virtual shadow of the KTLA 5 broadast tower and the sights of tents, encampments and makeshift living rooms where other participants slept. Occasionally a CHP cruiser, accompanied by another vehicle in front of it, would pull over off the freeway, bright red and blue lights flashing, accompanied by a robotic-like voice coming from the cruiser commanding the other driver to pull over or get out of their car.  I was also one of just a handful of walkers on the course. A fellow walked asked me which team I was with and informed me that, along with myself, her team and another’s (“Team Turtle”) were the only teams keeping the Relay going for all 24 hours.

Just before 4 a.m., teammate Julian Kelly arrived and I handed her the reins (in the symbolic sense, participants didn’t have to hold on to anything) to the relay.

Later on, those who submitted their names to me were very delighted and touched by my dedications; it was the least I could do of course, but I was proud and honored to help them remember their loved ones. I hope I never have to endure cancer, but if my wishes could come true, I wish that no one else has to either. But the Relay For Life is a small, yet, important step in that direction, and I’m proud to have participated in it.

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