It was a day of laughter, of hope, of remembrance.
The Tehachapi Relay For Life 2014 filled the football field at Coy Burnett Stadium Saturday and Sunday in a continuing effort to raise money in the fight against cancer.
A total of 40 teams showed up to the two-day event, filling the stadium with survivors, caregivers, family members and friends, as well as those newly diagnosed with the disease.
Not only were local residents found participating, but supporters from all over the state and beyond.
The event kicked off with a pancake breakfast served by the Desert Search and Rescue Unit, followed by the opening ceremony led by Duana Pera, Relay chair. Pera recognized top sponsors of this year's event, including Carolyn Niles, of the Carriage Inn and Terra-Gen Thunderbolts team, who has been a $5k sponsor for the past 11 years, and Josh Larkin of Lehigh Southwest Cement Company and Lehigh Lappers team, another $5k sponsor.
"We have lost family and friends to cancer," said Niles. "We also have friends and family who are battling cancer now. We are dedicated to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. Together, we will make a difference."
Also for the 11th year in a row, the local Boy Scouts' Color Guard presented the Colors in the opening ceremony. Brinley Marks, 10, a student at Tompkins Elementary School, sang the National Anthem.
This year's survivor information speaker was Jennifer Deater, 31, who was first diagnosed at the age of six months. She and her husband, Chris, are local residents.
"At five months old, I wouldn't stop screaming," said an emotional Deater, her voice quivering and eyes filled with tears.
"My parents decided to take me to the doctor's, but when the doctor couldn't find a cause, like gas or colic, we were sent home and told to return in a month if things didn't improve. Then, on Oct. 31, 1983, we went back in for a check up, and my parents were told to take me straight to Los Angeles Children's Hospital.
"I was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma," said Deater.
Neuroblastoma is a malignant tumor that develops from nerve tissue, and most commonly occurs in infants and children.
"At the time of my biopsy, they found 100 tumors in my liver," said Deater. "I had to have my adrenal gland and appendix removed, and I was started on chemo and underwent treatment for 8 months. By the time I was 14 months old, I had lived longer undergoing chemo than I had without it.
"I lost my first set of teeth to chemo, but that didn't keep me from smiling," said the vivacious cancer survivor.
However, according to Deater, there is no sense of security living in remission.
"I was going to make every day a purpose," she said. "I have always been outgoing, skiing and traveling every chance I got. Life is a fight...the fight for a cure, and a fight to move on. But, it's not about me. It's about everybody going through the fight seeing my face, and never giving up hope."
The torch bearer for the 2014 Tehachapi Relay For Life was Cliff Benavides, who is also known as "Mr. Relay." Benavides is also a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the summer of 2009. He and his wife, Misty, have been participating in the local Relay For Life since moving to Tehachapi.
"I think the main thing is for people to remember that there are survivors out there, and that the odds are no longer against you," said Benavides.
In a football field filled with dancing dragonflies, Benavides led the first lap for survivors along with Grand Marshals Jim and Tammy Wallace in their golf cart.
Long into the night and early the next morning, the Coy Burnett Stadium was the center of many activities, such as theme laps, dancing, music, a cake walk, car show, flash mobs, bubble blowing, kazoo blowing, and the ever emotional survivor salute and Luminaria.
This year's event was another successful one, raising over $118k in donations.