Residents takes 'steps' in fight against cancer

Posted: Monday, July 12, 2010

Cancer can't silence a 13-year old future rock star playing in front of a live audience for the first time. Nor can it slow down a poodle in a pink sweater. And it can't defeat pirates, cowboys, or even kids dancing in the rain.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Those were among the multitude of Juneau residents who gathered at the Dimond Park Fieldhouse over the weekend in support of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.

"It was fun, it was lots of fun," said Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School guitarist Jason Hock, 13, of his debut guitar set. "I know some people with cancer, not really well, but you don't have to know someone to show support. I think this is a good thing."

Hock, part of The New Rock Legends, was standing in with rock band The Missing Link and throwing down 70's chords with the band's Brian Messing.

Crowds gathered in shades of pink and purple in support of the relay, with more than 30 teams and many individual participants who registered for the 24-hour walk. They were there to honor loved ones lost, to celebrate those who have battled, and to fight back against the disease. Themed laps and activities lifted spirits and inspired hope.

Rich and Peggy Mattson walked in raingear with big, sunny smiles.

"I am a survivor," Peggy Mattson said. "My mother died from cancer and I have another friend who is in Seattle right now being treated for breast cancer. It is just a good way to support everybody."

Rich was walking to raise funds and keep cancer research going.

Youths Isaiah Burgess, Taylor Sutak and Reilly Sutak walked with their arms full of stuffed animals. Why?

"Because we rock," they yelled in unison. "And because grandma is a cancer survivor!"

They said it was for Debbie Lewin, Isaiah's 'grammie,' but then added, "this is for all our grandmas!"

Behind them marched Elijah Burgess and the bright, pink fashion plate Pepper Ann, a brisk little white terrier that ruled the oval track.

Pirate Lara Brown of Team Moose Track wore a pink necklace in honor of friends and relatives who "fought the battle of cancer."

Breast cancer survivor Shirley McCoy walked with her miniature dachshund Schatzi, a double-breast cancer survivor.

"People don't understand that pets get cancer too," she said.

Cancer couldn't deter Hoonah's Howard Gray from camping overnight with his cousin, Jesse Schoonover, and 8-year-old niece, Amy, from North Douglas. Howard's mother, Liv Gray, was a former Hoonah mayor and passed away from breast cancer in 2007 at age 58.

"This is in memory of my mother," Gray said. "My cousin told me about this relay and I came down, got involved, and now I am not leaving."

"Everyone is affected by cancer," added Schoonover, whose grandfather, Ralph Knudson Sr., is currently battling cancer.

The disease also couldn't stifle the Thunder Mountain cheer squad from an early morning cheer Sunday. "Hear the thunder, cancer is going under," they shouted during the final lap.

Falcon cheer captain Cydney Norberg's grandmother, Gail Norberg, 65, and aunt, Jo Anne Ballard, 45, are survivors. Cydney heads up the local youth volunteer chapter of ACS.

"We try to get the youth involved in committees too," Norberg said. "It is so important to raise awareness whenever and whereever we can."

The disease could not control the brother who battled prostrate cancer in Petersburg, the man who encouraged his girlfriend to walk laps until 6 a.m., the tiny child who misses the hugs of her grandpa, or the local pledges that came in totaling more than $50,000.

Event chair and cancer survivor Julie Lawrenson marveled at the support.

"This is our biggest fundraiser," she said. "To see the people here giving, and the silent auction sponsors, ... so many do care."

As the Relay For Life came to a close, cancer couldn't trip up the military-themed dance duo Jamie Parker and Houston Laws, as they flipped and spun in a swing dance for the ages at the center of the dirt ball park amidst falling rain. Parker's great aunt, Sybel Rose, passed to cancer, and her father, Greg Parker, is currently in Seattle battling the disease.

"We enjoy being here, doing this," she said. "This is special for everyone. I think if we remember, then they are not lost and cancer has not won."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at

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