Courage of all sizes at Relay

Elayna Charboneau, 2, gets a ride around the track with her parents, Nathan and Wendy, June 3 during the opening Survivor lap of the 2011 Relay for Life in Oak Harbor. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

Beautiful blue skies and sunshine greeted Oak Harbor’s 2011 Relay for Life, held this past Friday and Saturday, June 3 – 4, at North Whidbey Middle School. Yet even the lovely weather was not the most notable feature of the cancer fundraiser, according to one organizer.

“We have 1,350 registered participants so far,” said event chairperson April Wilder.

“There may well be many more than that, by the time the event ends, at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday). She called the turnout “impressive.”

Wilder was also very grateful for the pleasant temperatures.

“I have to say, this is probably the most beautiful weather we’ve had in at least three years,” she said. “Nice weather certainly can’t hurt us.”

Organizer April Wilder, far right, sings the National Anthem while the NAS Whidbey Island Color Guard presents the colors at the opening ceremony of the Relay for Life June 3. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

The track at Oak Harbor Middle School bustled with enthusiastic participants of all ages.

People walked, jogged, and pushed wheelchairs and strollers. Some came to show their support for those going through cancer treatment.

Others came to commemorate those who have lost their lives to the disease.

One of the youngest event participants actually stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Little Elayna Charboneau, 2, took turns balancing on the shoulders of her mother and father as they made several laps around the track.

Elayna has fought a rare form of cancer called adrenocortical carcinoma.
Her parents, hospital corpsmen Wendy and Nathan Charboneau, are stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Between laps, Nathan talked about his daughter’s diagnosis and treatment process.

“This disease can tear families apart,” he said. “I’m thankful to say that it seems to have made our family stronger.” The Charboneaus have five other children.
“We’re walking today for Elayna and the others. We want to express our gratitude for the care shown her, and support for all cancer survivors and their families,” he said.

Elayna had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor when she was little more than a year old.

Nathan described her experience at that young age.

“Just like now, she was a real trooper,” he said. “That very night, following the surgery, she was trying to move around – even with three IV’s in her body. It couldn’t keep her down.”

This is the first year the Charboneaus have participated in Relay for Life.
They did so at the invitation of their friend, Heather Buenaventura, who is employed at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor.

Cancer survivor Kathy Merrill, who works at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, is dressed to celebrate at last weekend’s 2011 Relay for Life. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

Other participants have been marching in the event for years now. One of them is Kathy Merrill, also employed at NHOH, where she processes medical evaluations and limited duty applications.

“I’ve been involved with Relay for Life about 16 years now,” said Merrill. “I just feel like I’ve benefited so much from the research and medical advances supported by this fundraiser.”

Merrill said both she and her husband are cancer survivors. In her job, she sees many who are affected by the disease as well.

For Merrill, one of the most encouraging aspects of Relay for Life is the camaraderie and spirit of friendship the event fosters.

“In addition to the research and funding, it also provides a network for people,” she said. “They have a venue in which to share stories of their recovery process, which helps encourage others who are starting treatment for the first time.”

Camaraderie and a festive spirit were definitely on full display among Merrill’s team. Beach accessories decorated their tent site, and the team members were outfitted in Hawaiian dress including leis and grass skirts. Merrill described one of their reasons for choosing that particular theme.

“We’re supporting a worthwhile cause, and having fun while we do it,” she said. “What could be better than an all-night party that also helps people?”