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Lathrop stages first 24 Hour Relay for Life
Chris Moore and Dan Mac Neilage lead the Survivors Walk at the start of the Lathrop Relay for Life at Lathrop High School on Saturday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
LATHROP – The youngest Lathrop Relay for Life participant could not even walk. After all, he was just 10 months old.

“He’s just supporting his grandmother. I am a cancer survivor,” Mary Kennedy-Bracken explained as she carried grandson Jordon Kennedy in her arms during the Cancer Survivors Walk which started the day’s American Cancer Relay for Life at Lathrop High School.

The 24-hour cancer-awareness event, which is also a fund-raiser benefiting the American Cancer Society to help its efforts in finding a cure to this deadly disease, concludes today at 9 a.m.

The survivors walk followed the breakfast served in honor of all cancer survivors. Fifteen signed up for the breakfast but the volunteers prepared for 60 people, the exact number of guests who came.

Joining the cancer survivors walk, led by Lathrop Relay chairman Dan Mac Neilage and Pastor Tim Voogd of the Lathrop Lighthouse Community Church, were different community groups including the Lathrop Lions, Lathrop Kiwanis, Lathrop Titans football team, Brownies, and various Lathrop High campus student groups. The cancer survivors stood out, thanks to their dark purple T-shirts with the back emblazoned with messages such as “Survivor” and “I Am Living Proof.”

Some walked without aid, some were assisted by loved ones, others like Ken Mullins and Arnita Montiel  rode in motorized wheelchairs. Adding drama and color to the survivors’ walk were the two huge banners held by Voogd and Mac Neilage with the message, “Celebrate.”

Each walker had a unique story of cancer survival story to share.

“I survived cervical cancer in 1965. They caught it before it went into my uterus but that was the end of my baby-making. My baby was just 15 months old at the time, the youngest of four,” Montiel said.

“Both of my daughters also had it,” she said of the disease that almost took her life. Both daughters also beat the disease. Her younger daughter, Gaye Valadez, is now a registered nurse working at Dameron Hospital in Stockton. Her other daughter is Jacque Mattes.

Montiel’s husband Jim was also diagnosed with a type of glandular cancer a few years ago.

“They’ve put me on the stable list,” he said of his continuing battle with the disease which had spread to his hip joint, pelvis and lungs.

“I’ve had radical chemotherapy besides radiation, the worst they can give you,” he said.

Despite these physical setbacks, the Montiels remain active in the community and at their parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lathrop. In fact, after the survivors walk, they headed to the church to help with this weekend’s annual harvest festival. Then later in the evening, they returned to join the candle ceremony at the Relay.

Mantecans Linda Purtle and her sister were among those from the Manteca Relay for Life who came to support the Lathrop group.

“We came out to help Lathrop get started (with their Relay),” she said.

Purtle, who has her own Relay team from Precision Styling where she works, said she has been active with Relay for Life since her father died five years ago from brain cancer.

“I’m going this for my dad,” said Purtle who was part of the group that prepared the breakfast.

Among the volunteers were from the cancer support group in Manteca, Friends Sharing. Member Lori Davidson said the group meets twice a month at her house and sometimes in a local restaurant. Anyone who wants to join the group and would like more information can call 824-9596.

Entertainment throughout the day was provided by various local talents including the Performance Team of Funtastic in Manteca. Six members of the team ages 7 to 10 attended the event: Emily Darco, Camryn Reed, Sophia Cerritos and sister Samanta, Kalista Kyslowsky, and Jamin Macia. They were accompanied by instructor Amanda Souza.

The spacious quad of Lathrop High School was dotted with multi-colored tents where scores of volunteers and participants went to take breaks in between walking in the relay.