Relay For Life of Moffat County small but still strong | CraigDailyPress.com

Relay For Life of Moffat County small but still strong

Dwayne and Laura Gonzales embrace Friday evening during the opening Survivors Lap of the 2014 Relay For Life of Moffat County. The couple was inspired to participate in the event following Laura's battle with colon cancer.

— Emily Hines was faced with some difficulties Friday afternoon when an unexpected shower hit the Moffat County Fairgrounds, threatening to spoil an event very dear to many.

While the deluge was a little disheartening, it was what came afterward as a symbol of hope that helped her keep her optimism for the night ahead — a rainbow, a symbol of hope that synched up almost perfectly with the purpose of the evening in store.

The 2014 Relay For Life of Moffat County went off with smaller numbers but no less spirit at Moffat County Fairgrounds, as community members came together to show their solidarity in the struggle against cancer.

A total of six teams and 45 people were involved before the event, bringing in more than $1,200 for cancer research according to early estimates, with a greater total expected after the weekend.

Hines, the organizer for this year's Relay, said despite being in a rebuilding year, the level of involvement is still noteworthy with concessions, music and plenty of inspirational messages.

"If only one person had come out tonight, it still would have been a success," she said. "Unfortunately, cancer has become such a prevalent thing in our society."

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The universality of an ailment like cancer is something that makes the American Cancer Society's biggest fundraiser just as important as it was when it began nearly 30 years ago. A person completely untouched by the disease, either firsthand or through a friend or loved one, is a rarity.

"Each of us has a unique reason for being here, but we all have one thing in common: to make a difference in the fight against cancer," Hines said to the crowd during the opening ceremony.

This marked the beginning of the Survivors Lap, as those who have been diagnosed with the disease and have come away from the ill effects marched around the track set up around the fairgrounds' parking lot. This year, instead of doing the Survivors Lap and then the Caregivers Lap, which acknowledges the people who help cancer patients see their journey through, the two sets of people made their way around the track in opposite directions, met in the middle and shared a lap together.

Husband and wife Dwayne and Laura Gonzales were the first to reconnect and begin walking as one, a moment that was very significant for the couple. Laura was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer last summer, experiencing a barrage of chemotherapy treatments, which ended this spring.

"It was tough, but I had a wonderful support system," she said, smiling at her spouse.

Last she checked with doctors, she was cancer-free.

"It's just a blessing," she said.

Laura had participated in past Relay For Life events, though she was unable last year. A doctor's comment that she was "living on borrowed time" helped spur the Gonzales family to form the team Kicking Cancer's A with friends.

"It's just amazing, the things that people do," Dwayne said.

Laura's story wasn't the only positive one that night — Heather Cruz was among the youngest to wear a purple T-shirt labeled Survivor. Heather was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2013, but she has since bounced back thanks to effective treatments.

Her mother, Yolanda, said she was overjoyed to be able join her daughter for the Relay, happy, healthy and with a full head of hair.

"It's just a great feeling," Yolanda said. "Words can't say how I feel."

Lyndi Wagoner was one of the walkers making her way around the track, trying to keep up with her 5-year-old daughter, BeccaAnn. After working with other Relay events in Northwest Colorado and elsewhere, Wagoner said she would like to see Craig's gathering restored to its former glory as a full, overnight celebration of life, whether that means focusing on finding a way to bring back the interest from the community or moving the location to Craig Middle School's track, as opposed to the former location at Moffat County High School, which sometimes proved problematic with high winds.

"Hopefully it comes back, and we can make it as big as I know other places can be," she said.

Organizing multiple events in the area this summer, including Steamboat Springs and Eagle County, has been trying for Hines in her first year as a specialist for ACS. However, the way she sees it, if the people around her can fight something as debilitating as cancer, she can make 2015's Relay one to remember.

"I'm excited for next year because we have a sense of what people like and don't like, and hopefully we'll be able to build on that," she said.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.