What can a teenager do when his friend’s mom is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, beyond simply being there as a friend?
Well if he’s Joe Blakewell, he can spearhead a campaign to raise thousands of dollars to support cancer patients and cancer research, and enlist his friend in the process.
Blakewell, an incoming junior at Davis High School, did just that several years ago when Davis child development expert Joyce Lee was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
Blakewell and Lee’s son, Dylan, are lifelong friends and their families have been close for years. Blakewell and his brothers even shaved their heads in support of Joyce Lee when chemotherapy began taking her hair. But he wanted to do more.
So Blakewell decided to form a team to participate in the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life fundraiser in Davis. The event, taking place in cities all over the country, features teams walking for 24 hours straight, raising money for cancer research, treatment and patient support in the process.
Teams pledge to have at least one member walking the track at all times during the 24-hour period, symbolizing the ongoing, nonstop battle against a disease that never sleeps.
Since Blakewell and Lee formed Team “Walk Around the Clock” in 2012, the duo and the team of youths they lead has raised more than $22,000 for the American Cancer Society — the most of any participating teams in Davis over the past two years — and they will only add to that total when they take to the Emerson Junior High School track again Aug. 2-3.
And while Joyce Lee remains their inspiration — after several surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, she has been in remission for more than a year now — they also walk for all the others in their lives who have been diagnosed with cancer since, including the parents and grandparents of their friends.
“I see it a lot,” Dylan Lee said. “More than I want to.”
So they walk, probably a marathon’s worth of walking each of the past two years, catching a few hours of sleep when they can. The team sets up tents and easy-ups, provides food and water for their supporters and even some games like a popular home-run derby last year, as well as a water balloon toss.
They are joined by teammates and classmates and friends; siblings and parents of friends; people from their churches and more. Some come to walk with them, others to cheer them on and provide moral support.
And the support invigorates the boys throughout the event.
Each time someone new arrived to walk, Blakewell said last year, “it felt really good, really exciting. … It made us want to go back out there and walk with them.”
Still, Dylan Lee recalled being so tired after the first relay in 2012 that when it finally ended, he went home and slept for about 24 hours straight. But even before he hit the sack, he knew he’d be back again the following year. And this year was no different.
First, of course, comes the fundraising. The boys have hosted several fundraisers so far this year, at Lamppost Pizza and The Habit Burger and elsewhere, and have contacted family, friends and local businesses seeking donations.
Their next event takes place Saturday, a carwash in the parking lot of Round Table Pizza in South Davis, 2151 Cowell Blvd., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The following Saturday, the relay gets underway at 9 a.m. and continues until 9 a.m. Sunday, after which Dylan and Joyce Lee have been invited to speak, which they will do.
All community members are invited to come out to Emerson Junior High, 2121 Calaveras Ave., and walk or just visit, picnic, even camp overnight and cheer on walkers representing the 17 teams that will be participating in this year’s relay.
One of the highlights every year is the lighting of the luminaria — candle-lit paper bags decorated in honor of, or in memory of, individuals who have struggled with cancer. Each bag bears the name of a person who has battled cancer, and as night falls, and the candles within are lit, the bags light the way around the track for walkers.
Blakewell said it is his favorite part of the relay.
“It’s really neat because right as it gets dark, they light them,” he said.
Dylan Lee’s favorite part, meanwhile, is the opening ceremony, where all cancer survivors and their families are invited to take a lap to kick off the relay.
Lee and his family have participated in the survivor lap each year.
“Everyone is out there cheering you on,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
For his mom, though, that first year was tough, as she was deep in her own cancer battle and didn’t consider herself a cancer survivor just yet. This year, she’s in a different place, she said, having been in remission for more than a year.
Still, she said, it’s been a tough year, with the cancer deaths of two much-loved Davis women — activist, author and filmmaker Ann Murray Paige and North Davis Elementary School teacher Paulene Bitners.
“We lost two moms,” she noted, “and that’s really hard for me.”
But the relay, she said, serves as an anchor of sorts, “a place where kids try to do something to help the people around them, their families and themselves.”
Of her son and Blakewell she said: “I’m so proud of them.”
“It takes a lot out of their daily schedule to do this,” Lee explained, “and this is the only youth-led team.
“I want the community to understand that this is rallying other youth and it’s worth supporting. It’s not just about cancer; it’s helping young kids to (develop) that compassionate soul. It’s young people’s hearts starting to open up, and I think it’s worth supporting.”
Learn more about the Relay for Life at www.relayforlife.org. Find the Davis event through the search function and sign up to walk or donate, or simply show up at Emerson between 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2, and 9 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3, to cheer on Team Walk Around the Clock and the 16 other teams out there raising money for the fight against cancer.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy