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Volunteers gearing up for Manteca Relay for Life
Jenny Walker shares the story of her dad Manuel who passed away from cancer. She was one of the speakers at the Relay for Life team meeting conducted Wednesday at the Manteca Bowl. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Jenny Walker shared the memory of her father.

“You hear about cancer affecting other families,” she said at Wednesday’s Relay for Life kick-off event at the Manteca Bowl and Family Fun Center. “But you never imagine it could happen (to your family).”

Walker sported a “Pop’s Soldier” t-shirt with the photo of her late father. That’s the name of Relay for Life team.

Manuel Valdez Sr. died July 12, 2011 surrounded by his family.

“The worse of it was that he was gone. But the best of it was that he was finally in heaven and no longer suffering,” Walker said.

The Relay for Life is scheduled April 20-21 at East Union High’s Dino Cunial Field. The 24-hour event will include the opening and closing ceremonies along with the Luminaria bags and candles dedicated to those who have battled or are currently battling cancer.

According to event chair Kim Bettencourt, about 21 teams thus far are scheduled to participate. “Usually, everyone here was touched by a loved one who battled or lost their battle to cancer,” she said.

Valdez died at age 60 after living a seemingly healthy life.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and was in and out of the hospital.

“We were told that all of the cancer was removed,” Walker recalled. “To us, he looked fine.”

But that was far from the truth. Valdez, who was treated at Stanford Hospital, succumbed to his battle rather quickly.

Last year, the Valdez family – included is Manuel’s widow Carolyn; son, Manuel Jr.; and daughters Jenny, Sarah and Melissa – took part in the Manteca Relay for Life.

Jenny Walker, for one, buried herself into the work to the point that she personalized her father’s memory with some of the fundraising ideas.

She works as the employee relations coordinator at Dameron Hospital.

“My father had a sweet tooth,” Walker said. “He loved candy. So we came up with candy bouquet as a fundraiser.”

 She also did a Stockton Thunder hockey fundraiser in which her mother, Carolyn, had a chance to ride the zamboni around the rink between periods.

This year’s Thunder hockey fundraiser is scheduled for March 16.

In addition, Relay for Life is planning a tri-tip beef dinner on Feb. 16 and a wine-tasting event at Delicato Family Winery on March 23.

Walker added that Relay for Life will honor all caregivers. “They’re a huge part on why we relay,” she said.