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20130426 MISSION Relay for Life AF  0038MISSION — Over 1,000 Rio Grande Valley residents joined the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for a 10-hour walk to raise funds for cancer research.

The event made its first appearance in Mission at the Mission High School Tom Landry Stadium.

Community Manager Heather Marks said the relay started in 1985, and since its inception, has grown tremendously.

“There are actually 5,200 Relay for Life events held through out the nation,” Marks said. “Every single one of them has a goal to celebrate cancer survivors, to remember those lost and to fight back against cancer.”

Teams are formed by groups of businesses, school groups, church groups, organizations and family members. Their goal is to fundraise for the American Cancer Society and to raise awareness, said Marks. The multiple groups pitched campsites in and bordering the track, to hold snacks and have onlookers support those participating in the relay.

Besides the relay, multiple activities and opportunities were available to learn about cancer and how to prevent the deadly disease. In 2012, Marks said approximately 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer.

Mayor Norbeto “Beto” Salinas and Mission Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez offered their support at the relay. Not only were members of the district there to watch, but also many were happy to call themselves cancer-free.

The Mission High School Class of 1981 had a group entered in the relay of nearly 40 members.

“We are walking for all of our classmates that have survived and passed,” MHS graduate Ralph Garcia said. “We have a classmate who just survived breast cancer, and I’m currently not sure if I have it; we are still testing to see.”

While Garcia waits for his results, his classmate Rosalinda Mendez said she just returned home from Houston after months of receiving treatment on March 21. She added happily, she is now cancer-free.

Mendez is currently a teacher with MCISD for the visually impaired. She said walking in the relay is crucial for her because research is what saved her life.

“My doctors told me I could get radiation since my cancer was small,” Mendez said. “Because of research, they no longer have to remove the whole breast.”

One of her students, Angelica Gonzalez, went to offer her support. Gonzalez is blind, but has a talent in singing. Mendez said she was honored to have her there and for her former classmates to participate.

At 7 p.m., survivors walked the first lap starting off the relay. Mendez hugged her friend, Patricia Almendrez, at the start of the walk. Almendrez has been cancer-free for 13 years; she is also part of the MHS Class of 1981.

“Awareness is key…we wouldn’t have early detection if it weren’t for cancer research,” Alemendrez said. “It’s wonderful that we can get together as a class. You get to see everyone, and something binds us together…again.”

Almendrez said the best advice she could give to people who are new to the journey of cancer is to fall back on family.

“Allow your family to support you, have some faith,” Almendrez said who was accompanied on the walk with her daughter Vanessa. “Without faith, then what do you have? We need to stick together and advocate knowledge.”

As of Tuesday, officials said the relay had produced over $100,000, but relay teams are still sending in donations.

In 2012, $9.3 million was raised by South Central Texas to fight cancer and $6.3 million of that total was funneled back into the area, according to the American Cancer Society.

“(The relay participants’) goal is to walk all night…to remind us that cancer never sleeps. If you don’t know someone now, chances are you will,” Marks said. “We need to work towards a cure--that’s what every person that attends wants, every survivor is here because of hope.”

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