Cancer survivors, caregivers honored at annual reception
by Glenn Moore
Apr 17, 2014 | 1846 views | 0 0 comments | 82 82 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Relay reception
Debbie Powell discusses her experience with leiomyosarcoma during a reception for cancer survivors and caregivers Friday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Debbie Powell looked up at a board covered with pictures of her 4-year-old grandson, Ryder Sitch, who was diagnosed three years ago with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer.

“This is why I relay,” Powell said, as she recounted her grandson’s cancer battles and her own during a Relay For Life reception for cancer survivors and caregivers Friday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Powell, who was one of about two dozen survivors at the reception, shared her story of being diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a cancerous smooth-muscle tumor, in August.

“I have been on both sides of the fence,” Powell said. “Just when we thought we were getting out of the woods with Ryder, then Grandma gets it.”

Powell, a member of the food committee for this year’s Tracy Relay For Life, has walked the relay before with her grandson’s Ryder’s Rebels team. She said the relay has a different meaning for her since her diagnosis.

“It’s not easy signing up to come as a survivor to relay,” Powell said. “Like anything emotional, it’s hard to admit, but Relay For Life helps being public about it.”

Bev Pieretti led the reception and thanked the survivors for their courage. She said the Tracy relay is one of 5,000 taking place worldwide.

“There are 13 million survivors in the United States, and you are part of that family,” Pieretti said.

The Tracy Relay For Life, a 24-hour walkathon, raises money for the American Cancer Society. It is moving to a new venue this year in the West Valley Mall parking lot, 3200 N. Naglee Road.

As of Tuesday, 74 teams with 467 participants had signed up and raised more than $58,000.

Chairwoman Debbie Schaefer was excited Friday to see old friends and survivors at the reception that helps start the year’s relay events.

“It’s a way for the survivors to embrace what they have gone through,” Schaefer said. “It’s a way to honor the survivors.”

Survivors marked the number of years they had beaten cancer on a board at the reception. They also picked up the purple shirts they will wear as they walk the ceremonial first lap of the relay at 10 a.m. May 17.

“We are seeing more survivors at the Relay For Life, and they can’t wait to get their shirts,” Schaefer said. “It’s a badge of honor for them.”

New to this year’s relay is a butterfly release organized by Team Denny’s, Schaefer said.

Butterflies will be released at 5 p.m. May 17 in honor of cancer survivors and in memory of people who have died of cancer. People who want to join the release can preorder their butterflies until next Friday for a cost of $15. For information, email Schaefer at

At the reception, survivors signed their names on a purple tablecloth that will be used at next year’s reception. Luminarias — decorated paper bags that will be lit from inside — were also sold for the annual remembrance ceremony scheduled at 9 p.m.

Watching fellow survivors sign the tablecloth and pick up their shirts, Powell said she expected it to be a different experience joining the mass of purple-clad survivors to walk the first lap around the track.

“Every year, the sea of purple grows,” Powell said. “It teaches you are not alone. You know you are surrounded by people who have gone through it before.”

Relay For Life opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. May 17, and the relay closes at 9:30 a.m. May 18. For more information, visit

• Contact Glenn Moore at or 830-4252.

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