Taylor Inje passed hundreds of lanterns — the only light in the darkened stadium — reading the names of those who have fought and continue to fight cancer.
Maryssa Smith, 8, a member of the Walgreens team, takes a break from walking laps to play with bubbles at Saturday’s Relay for Life event. Del Norte Triplicate / Jessica Cejnar
Suddenly Taylor paused, bent down and pointed. The face of Brooke Rippetoe smiled back at her 11-year-old cousin. Over Brooke’s picture were the words “in memory of.”
“We were really close,” Taylor said. “We were best friends.”
Relay For Life participants spent Saturday and Sunday walking the track at Del Norte High School and selling raffle tickets, baked goods and jewelry to raise funds for cancer research. But when volunteers dimmed the stadium lights and lit the luminaria lanterns, teammates turned meditative, walking the Lap of Silence arm in arm with family, friends and loved ones.
Before Brooke became sick, diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008, Taylor said she and her cousin would play dress-up, have slumber parties and play with Brooke’s Care Bears. When she found out about Brooke’s diagnosis, Taylor said she was confused.
“When I was little I didn’t know what cancer was. All I knew was she had a disease,” she said. “When I think about her I go into her room. We used to sleep in there and play on her swing set and go hunting together.”
Now, even though she still misses Brooke, Taylor said she’s glad to participate in Relay For Life and remember her cousin.
“It’s been fun,” she said.
Brooke’s parents, Crescent City residents Clint and Kristie Rippetoe, raised money for the American Cancer Society by selling homemade tri-tip sandwiches. Brooke loved her dad’s barbecue, said her grandmother, Jeannie Clewell.
“She was a rib-eater,” Clewell joked.
After Brooke died, Relay became too emotional, she said.
It was Brooke’s younger brother, Brandon, who encouraged his family to form the team Brooke’s Angels, Clewell said.
“Her brother insisted,” she said. “Brandon wanted to do it this year, so here we are.”
Many Relay participants came out to walk and raise funds in the name of a loved one or to remember and honor their own fight with cancer. But for Michelle Camarena, who is fighting breast cancer herself, this year’s event is more emotional than ever before.
Camarena has walked in 11 Relay For Life events for her mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. She said she represents the fourth generation of her family to battle the disease. Along with her mother, Camarena said two great aunts and a great grandmother had breast cancer.
Being treated for cancer isn’t easy. Camarena’s hair is just growing back after four months of chemotherapy in Medford, she had a full mastectomy on her left side and has completed five weeks of radiation treatment in Grants Pass. She said she has a week and a half to go.
“I have good days and bad days,” Camarena said, adding that her daily treatment requires her to stay in Grants Pass. “You just try to get through this. There’s nothing you can do, you either fight it or not. It makes you a stronger person in the end.”
“I’ll be glad to assume some sort of regularity,” Noll said, adding that she was diagnosed in January. “When you’re in treatment, you’re on their schedule. The big thing I had a hard time with was learning that I was no longer in charge.”
Noll said this is her second battle with breast cancer, initially being diagnosed five years ago. She was participating in Relay For Life with her mother.
This year, Noll said she initially decided to participate in Relay For Life to support the other survivors. It wasn’t until she looked at the event program and saw the name of her team, Bev’s Posse, that she realized how important this Relay was for her teammates.
But, she said, she isn’t the only survivor.