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Tears and laughter at annual Relay for Life

Annual event at Costa Mesa High School, which brings together cancer survivors and caregivers, raises money for the American Cancer Society.

June 08, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Cancer survivors Cheri Sheldon, center left, and Lena Enriguez, center right, walk around the track during Relay for Life, hosted by the American Cancer Society, at Costa Mesa High School on Saturday. Sheldon, a Costa Mesa High teacher, has been battling cancer since March 2012. Enriguez has been an ovarian cancer survivor for the last two years.
Cancer survivors Cheri Sheldon, center left, and Lena… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Julie Elkins cried only twice during her 11-year battle with breast cancer.

The first time was while walking out of a clinic with the words, "You have cancer" ringing in her ears. The second was when her husband shaved her head. The Costa Mesa resident was also unprepared for the chemotherapy-induced loss of her eyebrows and eyelashes, she recalled.

"I looked like Charlie Brown when I was bald," said Elkins, 52, laughing. "I learned how to tie scarves so I wouldn't look stupid."

That experience not only introduced her to the American Cancer Society's (ACS) "Look Good Feel Better" campaign — which arms women with knowledge on applying makeup, finding wigs and handling skin problems resulting from the disease — but also brought her to Costa Mesa's seventh Relay for Life event on Saturday.

Having undergone 11 surgeries in as many years and a litany of painful medical procedures, Elkins' faith in ACS' resources has been reinforced. A 24-hour walk and fundraiser, Relay for Life bolsters the health organization's research, advocacy, awareness, programming, and more.

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"I'm a better person because I got cancer, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone," Elkins said.

Elkins joined survivors and caregivers — wearing white and purple sashes respectively — for the opening ceremony at Costa Mesa High School's track. The band played Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory" and the cheerleading team performed a short routine, declaring "What are we yelling for? Relay for Life."

Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who cited the occasion's intent to "Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.", was among those present.

"I just encourage [those of] you that have always thought about starting your own team that you go ahead and do it," said Leece, chairwoman of "Team Costa Mesa," which debuted this year and raised more than $1,000. "You've got to start somewhere and this is a great cause."

While some were not bothered by the drizzle and chill — atypical for a June morning — others huddled close for warmth. The crowd featured toddlers munching on Goldfish crackers, women comparing the size of their biceps and a young girl dressed in a neon green shirt that proclaimed "Cancer sucks."

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