Hundreds join on track in Relay for Life

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A luminary in memory of cancer victim Cheryl Anderson waits until nightfall to be lit while an evening sunset lights the ghostly blur of American Cancer Society Relay For Life walkers circling the Martin Field track.

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Pausing for a moment at the luminary honoring the cancer deaths of her grandparents, Danila Dudenkov wipes a tear from her eye before rejoining the rest of the American Cancer Society Relay For Life walkers circling the Martin Field track. Dudenkov lost her grandfather to cancer when she was 3. Her grandmother died from the disease just a year ago.

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Eighty-seven-year-old — and 45-year cancer survivor — Frankie Weed checks out the luminaries as she makes her final lap at this year's Relay For Life.

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Pausing for a moment at the luminary honoring the cancer deaths of her grandparents, Danila Dudenkov wipes a tear from her eye before rejoining the rest of the American Cancer Society Relay For Life walkers circling the Martin Field track. Dudenkov lost her grandfather to cancer when she was 3. Her grandmother died from the disease just a year ago.

WALLA WALLA - Hundreds walked the 2012 Relay for Life at Martin Field on Friday and Saturday.

More than 500 people participated in the 24-hour event, raising more than $60,000 for cancer research.

As in years past, on Friday at dusk hundreds of luminaries to honor survivors were lit, though far too many were not for survivors but read "In memory of …"

"You can tell it is very emotional," Danila Dudenkov said, with a slightly cracked voice and Czech accent. She had just finish lighting the luminary in memory of her grandparents and noted her grandmother died last year of cancer. "I read a couple of them. It is really hard to read them."

Not all of the luminaries for the dead said "in memory of." Some merely said, "Missing you." Others just had names, dates and the relations of the person who set the luminary.

"Father," "Mother," "Brother," Sister," "Friend."

Sometimes a name and date were enough: "Rachel Lambert 1979-1982."

As hard as it was to walk the track and not feel sadness for those lost, that same track also celebrated the survivors.

"Fight it. Beat it. Survive it. To all the survivors you did it," a luminary read.

It is a Relay for Life tradition that survivors walk the first lap of the event.

This year about 200 of them, most in purple shirts, including one burly tattooed man, walked the survivors' lap.

Among them was a frail, short, 87-year-old woman who could barely make one lap before taking a break. But don't let Frankie Weed's lack of stamina fool you, she's a survivor going 45 years strong.

"I am going to go to the survivors' dinner, then I will go walk some more," Weed said after finishing her first lap, then added she planned to walk two more. And she would. But now it was time to eat and recollect about when she went into the hospital for a biopsy.

"March 13, 1967," Weed said, making it clear she will never forget that day.

She went under for the procedure. When she woke, one of her breasts had been removed.

"What can you say. You can't tell them to put it back," Weed said plainly. Then she explained her husband had authorized the procedure after the doctor had confirmed it was cancer.

It was how they did it back then, and it scared the heck out of Weed's then-16-year-old niece, Kathty Rohde.

"It was terribly frightening to think of getting it (breast cancer)," Rohde said, adding that back then there wasn't much acknowledgement for what her aunt had survived.

"Back in those days you didn't talk about it. It was a stigma. But as I got older and I got married, I thought she was real brave," Rohde said.

Three years ago, Weed attended her first Relay for Life. It was the first time she had been recognized as a survivor.

"It is a miracle she lived so long," Rohde added.

For Weed, surviving was just part of life.

"I just take life as it comes and try to treat others as I would like them to treat me," she said.

About three hours later, just before the lighting of the luminaries, Weed could be see walking the track for the third time.

Every now and then her 4-foot, 5-inch frame stooped over to pick up a luminary, only to put it back down.

"I'm just walking around looking for my name. Most of them are in memory of, the few ones that I do pick up," she said.

As life would have it, her luminary would be at the end of her circle.

Still, she found it. She picked it up. She crinkled the white paper sack in a clenched hand and started to walk away with it like a lunch bag.

Last year she saved her luminary. Two years ago she didn't. So she wasn't going to let this one slip by.

Then someone told her that other people would be lighting the luminaries.

At hearing that, Weed's short frame sunk to an even lower level as she put the sack back on the ground so others could see the light that would soon emanate from her survivor's luminary.

"I just take life as it comes..."

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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