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Luminaria Ceremony Lights Way to Relay for Life

Four hundred luminarias lined Franklin Street between Homestead Road and Benton Street and encircled the fountain at Franklin Mall, lighting up the night on April 9. The poignant yet hopeful luminaria ceremony was a kickoff for the American Cancer Society’s 2022 Santa Clara Relay for Life fundraiser, a 12-hour walkathon on April 30.

Each hand-decorated luminaria, a white paper bag weighted by a small block of wood and illumined from inside by LED lights, was dedicated to a loved one lost to or fighting cancer or a survivor.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has not been affected or touched by cancer, and I don’t want my kids to go through this,” said Santa Clara resident and Relay for Life volunteer Jalayne Forrester. “It’s about time to find a cure and prevention.”


Forrester chatted in the glow of the luminarias with Mary Jane Stiff, a Santa Clara Relay for Life planning committee member.

“Sharing information about cancer screening and early detection is really important,” said Stiff, team captain of Stars for Life, the Order of the Eastern Star Relay for Life team.

The women shared stories of family members diagnosed with late-stage cancer who might have been saved with the early detection tests available today. Or if they had not hesitated to go to a doctor.

“If you’re feeling that something’s not quite right, check it out. There is a greater chance you’ll survive if you find it [cancer] early,” said Stiff, whose father died of colon cancer. “A colonoscopy is a blessing.”

Stiff and fellow Santa Clara Eastern Star members Kathleen MacDonald and Anela Eisert gathered by a luminaria display where the bags spelled H-O-P-E and C-U-R-E. Their Eastern Star chapter has supported Relay for Life for over 20 years. Eastern Star’s Grand Chapter of California adopted Relay for Life as one of its state-wide charities.

At the closing ceremony at 8:30 p.m., kilt-clad bagpipers Burr and Sue Nissen from Los Gatos walked up one side of Franklin Street and down the other, playing “The Rowan Tree,” “Going Home” and “Amazing Grace.”

Stacey Souza sang “Every Candle Has a Name.” The song, which debuted in 2010, was written for Relay for Life luminaria ceremonies.

An empty chair was on the sidewalk beside a small, round table set for one. It represented a loved one taken by cancer and no longer at the dinner table with family and friends. Forrester read “The Empty Table,” a reading explaining the symbolism of items on the table.

“The luminaria ceremony is so moving,” said the Eastern Star women. “It’s a way of remembering people. We were moved to tears.”

Santa Clara’s 2022 fundraising goal is $65,000 for cancer research, education, advocacy and health equity.

For everything you need to know about fighting cancer by supporting and getting involved with the American Cancer Society’s Santa Clara Relay for Life, visit The Santa Clara Relay for Life will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 30 at Townsend Field on Bellomy Street.


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