SELMA — Organizers of the annual Selma Cancer Support walk had three goals in mind for their Sept. 30 event: raise money, raise hope and raise awareness.

“If we asked for a show of hands [of people affected by cancer] in any environment, a lot of hands go up,” Marianne Rodriguez said. Rodriguez is one of many volunteers who not only pitched in to run the Central Valley Cancer Walk at Pioneer Village, but has been a beneficiary of the group's help.

“The only reason Louie and I made it through financially was because of the support from our community,” she said of her husband’s own fight with cancer. She’s helping to spread the word about Selma Cancer Support’s assistance and to garner donations for the organization that helps local cancer patients with various bills, information and emotional support for them and their families.

The Central Valley Cancer Walk featured colorful booths honoring family members, raffles, a barbecue, Zumba and music culminating in a luminaria lighting that night.

Selma Cancer Support President Char Tucker kicked off the annual walk by acknowledging the challenges of the ongoing fight cancer survivors and their families have day in and day out.

“Cancer is a long, hard journey and we want to be there to help you get through that since no one should have to go through that alone. It’s like going into war. These people fight so long and so hard. We’re just so happy you’re here with us today.”

Selma Cancer Support includes Tucker, secretary Bob Allen, treasurer Bill Tucker and directors Mary Allen, Karen Foster and Andrew Guzman.

Rodriguez and her family staffed a booth filled with ICEE items that day as the slushy drinks were one of the few things her husband could drink while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

“There’s something about the way it’s made that was very soothing for him. In January, I wrote a letter to their corporation to say ‘thank you.’ Through a series of emails they supplied all of our gear for today. These swag bags will help us raise a lot of money and everything they donated to us for our booth will help us raise money.”

Her sister Karen Walsten even donned the ICEE Polar Bear mascot outfit to take pictures with children at the walk.

“It’s my hope that the fundraising and awareness continues throughout the year and people save their pocket change, or have yard sales and donate or banks have a Friday where they raise money for our community,” Rodriguez said.

Kathy Alatorre and her family were taking part in the walk in memory of her late husband, Frank Jerry Alatorre.

“My family and I walked the survivor walk in behalf of my husband so that’s pretty emotional but we got through it.”

Alatorre credits Selma Cancer Support for helping her family not only financially, but with understanding.

“Once cancer hits your family, the doctors do their job but what Selma Cancer does is they help you financially. They help you emotionally. They give you support you can’t find anywhere else. You have your family, but Char [Tucker] understands and she helped me so much when it first happened to us. She guided us through this process and you can’t replace that.”

Alatorre encourages more residents to come out for the annual walks so they can see how survivors and families are coping together.

“If you have a family member going through this, you’ve got to come out and feel the support. You have to feel it. Come because you can hear people talk about it but when you get here, you see the families and what they’re doing for their families,” Alatorre said.

If residents missed this walk, Alatorre said it’s not too late to help.

“Get a team together because there’s so many different ways to raise money. That’s the whole point. Even if you don’t have enough people for a team, you could do a donation sheet and do it with your co-workers and your family.”

Steve Benavides came with the Walmart team and was helping put sand in the luminaria bags that would be lit later that evening. He has family and friends who have either died or are dealing with cancer now. He said taking part in the event was one way to cope and help local people.

“We cope with it taking it day by day but a lot of [my family with cancer] has passed. I have a friend of mine that has cancer, too. I feel happy to help to support the people that have (cancer). It goes to survivors or people who’ve recently got it with their bills or with car rides.”

Andrew Guzman was also filling bags with sand that morning. Guzman’s a Selma Cancer Support board member and an officer with Selma Police Officers’ Association that helped sponsor the walk that day.

Guzman said since so many lives are touched by various types of cancer, it’s inevitable that local residents would need help or know someone who does.

“The best part that I like about Selma Cancer Support is the money stays local. When families are going through that horrible disease is alone tough enough. To have bills and other worries, it’s that much harder.

Guzman said the funds they raise will help pay bills for those who’ve been weakened from their cancer treatment and can no longer work, or keep them in their homes “to make their last moments with their families worthwhile if they end up passing.”

Selma Cancer Support started the Central Valley Cancer Support this year to branch out to surrounding communities as they take steps to start their own fundraising efforts, Guzman said.

“Fowler’s the most recent that joined and they’ll start fundraising on their own. They’ll be here today and will have their own events in their city.”

Fanny Rogers was among Valley Life Community Church members staffing a prayer table at the event. Rogers is a cancer survivor, too.

“It’s been four years. I wanted to come out and pray for anybody that needs prayer. I’m just thankful to the Lord has given me my life. I’m a survivor and cancer free.”

Among marchers that morning was breast cancer survivor Linda Marez who was surrounded by a group of family and friends who donned bright pink and carried signs to support her.

They’d only heard about the walk earlier that week and quickly organized to put a team together. Now that they’re aware of Selma Cancer Support does for survivors, they’ve made it goal to fundraise and came back next year.

“It’s been a year yesterday. I’m feeling great, absolutely great. I’m very blessed. It makes me feel like you really know who your friends are and who the people supporting you are.”

Her friend Maggie Juarez marched alongside her with a sign that read, “My B.F.F. is a survivor.”

“On Tuesday I said text your family and if they can’t make it that’s cool since she and I have walked through a lot of things in life together,” Juarez said. The women have been friends since third grade and for the past three decades they’ve seen each other through boyfriends, marriages, children and now grandchildren.

“We went from boyfriends to everything else. You never know what life has planned for you. You just deal with it the best you can and support the people you love.”

Marez said she personally hadn’t received help from Selma Cancer Support but understands what it’s like to have to leave work because of ongoing cancer treatment. She was a pre-school teacher but had to quit her job in 2016.

“Anybody who has either known somebody or is going through it, they need to know that they’re not alone. There’s times, even if you have so many people supporting you, you feel alone because they don’t understand you. It’s exciting to see that there are other people who are surviving. This boosts you up and encourages you.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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