Relay for Life draws hundreds to Merced College to fight cancer

Merced resident Daniel Amaral endured one round of chemotherapy the same day he attended Merced’s Relay for Life on Saturday.

The 33-year-old’s January cancer diagnosis shocked his mother, Jeannette Amaral, who was walking in support of her son at the Merced College stadium, along with hundreds of survivors, volunteers and community members in the city’s 16th annual event.

“I want to show my son there are many people in the same position who have survived,” Jeanette, 52, said, “and that he too will survive his diagnosis.”

Jeannette has been by her son’s side through several of his treatments after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Learning about the disease has motivated her to support cancer research. “(Doctors) were talking to me about new medicine,” she said, “and people with stage 4 cancers are living a lot longer and are able to fight with a better prognosis, and that’s what I want to support.”

Cancer research is not all Relay for Life is about, as it also brings people together to support survivors and honor those who lost the battle, such as Lare Bloodworth, who roamed the track with 30 or so family members to honor her mother, Florine Levine, who died in 2011 from breast cancer. “Even after she died, we wanted to come out and support and remember her,” the 42-year-old said.

Bloodworth’s grandmother also died from breast cancer, and after testing positive for the gene, Bloodworth had a double mastectomy and ovariectomy. She has participated in the Relay for Life since her mother’s 2005 diagnosis, to stress to younger family members the importance of early detection. “Doing this brings awareness,” she said.

Merced resident Kim Carillo said many people think the relay is just an event for cancer survivors and don’t know much about the work that goes into bringing awareness to the cause. That’s why she donated her son’s tumor eight years ago for cancer research.

In 2006, her 8-month-old son, David Webb, was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma. She has been attending the relay ever since.

Her son has been cancer-free since 2011, but she wants to be an example for others. “A lot of times people assume cancer affects only adults,” she said. “Then they look at (David) and they can’t believe a child that young has (had) cancer.”

Volunteer Grace Tollie said everyone at the event is considered family, and she appreciates that money raised goes back to local cancer programs.

American Cancer Society specialist Jessica Chamberlain said this is her second time connecting Relay for Life volunteers with the cancer society. “It’s amazing to work for so long and see it all come together,” she said. “Being a part of (the event) gives you something to be passionate about in a career.”

More than 700 participants registered before Saturday’s event. Organizers aimed to raise $198,000 to aid cancer research. .