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Relay for Life of Santa Clara 2016: Fighting Cancer Every Step of the Way

Relay for Life of Santa Clara 2016: Fighting Cancer Every Step of the Way

Cancer has no geographical boundaries. Sehajit Saluja, event chair for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Santa Clara 2016, walked April 30 for a friend’s mom in India who had died of breast cancer.

“Cancer touches the globe. If anyone is affected anywhere in the globe, they should spread cancer awareness,” said Saluja. “I decided I have to give back, and since I live in Santa Clara, I thought this would be a meaningful way.”

Relay for Life took place at Buchser Middle School’s Townsend Field, where 167 pre-registered individuals on 18 teams did laps around the track to raise awareness and money to fight cancer, raising $76,000 towards a goal of $100,000. Fundraising continues until August 31, online at


Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and City Councilmember Debi Davis launched the relay at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Then, because cancer never sleeps, for the next 24 hours–until 10 a.m. Sunday–at least one member from each team walked the track. Live entertainment gave the relay a festive atmosphere, and teams pitched tents so they could nap at night.

Come twilight, more than 400 luminarias candles lined the track. Each glowed for a remembered cancer victim, survivor, or fighter. One luminary was lighted in memory of Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs and one in support of Santa Clara City Councilmember Jerry Marsalli in his fight against cancer.

Girl Scout Troops 61148 and 61312 spent six weeks decorating the luminarias (candles placed in sand inside white lunch bags). Troop leader Jeannie Lyle and the girls have supported the relay since 2007, walking the track with friends such as Santa Clara Sister Cities founder John Figueira, Jr., on Team Hope.

The scouts met Figueira at a Veterans’ Day service at Central Park ten years ago. They distributed their handmade thank you cards to the veterans, including him.

“It really makes you feel good to see these girls. It gives you hope for the future because the younger generation has a lot of good people,” said Figueira. He surprised the girls, who called their team the Pirates, by dressing as a pirate himself.

“We started Team Hope because my mom is a cancer survivor, wrote Kathy Gamch, Figueira’s daughter, in an email. Our team is made up of our family and many, many friends now. We walk in honor of so many loved ones whom we have lost, or who are battling or have beaten this beast we call cancer.”

“This event has been therapy for us to come together, make a difference and in some cases grieve and honor our loved ones,” she wrote. “Pretty powerful stuff.”

Rucha Nanavati led Team Nirali in memory of her daughter, who died of leukemia nine years ago. Through the Nirali Memorial Medical Trust, a radiation center was started in Nanavati’s hometown–Surat, India.

“We need a cure. I don’t want anybody to go through what I have. You can’t recover from that kind of loss,” said Nanavati, pointing out that although one in three people is impacted by cancer, only one in ten knows about Relay for Life.

“We can use additional support from the community, businesses, the 49ers,” said Nanavati. “We need to bring in more sponsors.”

“I am blessed by God, and if we are blessed, we should support those in need of blessing,” said relay chair Saluja.


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