The Lil G’s Cancer Kickin’ Crew are ready.
They’ve already raised more than $3,300 and Chris Duran, one of the team members, vows that they will get to their goal: $4,000.
It’s the same amount this “Crew” of 38 brothers, sister, aunts, uncles and extended family members raised last year, the first time they took part in the San Fernando Relay for Life.
The 24-hour event — beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 11, to raise funds for research in the fight against cancer — takes place at San Fernando Recreation Park, and dozens of other teams are also putting the last touches on their fundraising efforts.
Lil G’s Cancer Kickin’ Crew was formed last year only a few days after the matriarch of the family, Carmen Duran, passed away just shy of her 91st birthday. Duran had fought triple negative hormone cancer for about a year and a half, undergoing two surgeries and 13 weeks of daily radiation treatment. But in the end, despite her toughness, the life-long resident of San Fernando succumbed to the deadly disease.
“When she passed away, we joined the Relay for Life a week and a half before [the event]. We had never participated; we had donated to the American Cancer Society,” Chris recalled.
“It’s a great experience. There’s a lot of community outreach, and it gives us the ability to touch others who normally don’t understand what cancer is all about,” he added.
Relay for Life is composed of teams whose members take turns walking or running around the park for a time. The event is emotional, inspiring and friendly.
“You find others that are going through treatment, a networking of individuals where there are no racial boundaries, no education boundaries, no income boundaries. It’s pretty unique. People all come together from different walks of life, they come together for a cause,” Chris said.
“It’s very emotional, you can see the survivors, it’s very touching and inspiring.”
For the Durans, the event has also become their family reunion. They have family members coming from Washington D.C., Arizona and San Diego, as well as other parts.
“Sometimes it’s very hard to get together, but with this, there’s no question about it, people show up,” Chris said.
The event for them begins Friday night when they start setting up their tent, brochures and information table, as well as the provisions they will need for the next two days.
Aside from a fundraising event, this is also about spreading the word about early checkups and constant vigilance against cancer. There’s also arts and crafts, carnival games and live entertainment.
“The most beautiful thing is that those people you talked to the year before, they come back and tell you they’ve gone to the doctor and have something checked out. You’ve reached someone and you’ve helped them, because at that point you’re saving lives and allowing someone to have another birthday,” Chris said.
One of the highlights is the luminarias ceremony at night. People write messages inside paper bags in honor of the cancer victims and use glow sticks to light those luminarias around the park. A video screen shows photographs of survivors, and those who’ve passed away.
This is the favorite part for Sandra Wilson, who’s been participating in the event for many years.
“It’s a very touching ceremony, but it brings you back to why you’re in the fight,” she said.
Wilson and her sister Alma Garcia formed the team “Circle of Friends” in 2007 to honor not one, but several of those afflicted by the disease.
She does it in honor of Cesarea Diaz, her daughter’s grandmother.
“She was someone so dear to us. She came back from cancer more than twice. When she lost her battle, we were so heartbroken. Going out to the relay keeps her memory alive,” Wilson said.
Like the Durans, Wilson finds a sense of camaraderie and friendship in the event.
“It’s a comfort to us, that unfortunately we’re not the only ones or the last ones to be dealing with this,” she said.
“Circle of Friends” is made up of 15 members (they’ve had as many as 20) who have raised as much as $8,000. They raise funds by selling bracelets and toys, doing pasta nights and asking for donations from friends on Facebook — anything to help their efforts.
“We all get competitive amongst each other to see who’s going to raise money. But it’s a healthy competition, because in the end it’s for a good cause,” Wilson said.
Many of the team members spend the night at the park, sharing life stories and simply hanging out. It’s a chance to catch up and simply be together.
That’s why both Duran and Wilson invite others, who’ve never been to these events, to come see for themselves the impact they can have on other people’s lives.
“It’s a great place to come and meet other people and be with other people who are going with through what you’re going through, to mourn the loss of those who have passed away and know you are not alone,” she said.
“You get strength from meeting other families in the same situation.”
The Relay for Life San Fernando event is Saturday, July 11, starting at 9 a.m. at San Fernando Recreation Park, located at 208 Park Ave., in San Fernando. For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/sanfernandoca or call (818) 473-5291.