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Relay for Life raises $123,000 for cancer research

MARYSVILLE — A longtime Marysville resident, P.J. Parsons was in for a surprise when she agreed to deejay the north Snohomish county Relay for Life.

Parsons decided to pass on her chance to walk across the stage to receive her bachelor's degree in general studies and human services from Western Washington University, instead opting to play music and announce the June 13-14 Relay for Life at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

"Maybe it's being in that field," said Parsons of her decision to come to the fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Her degree prepared her for work in the non-profit field. "These are good people and I know I can do this for them."

Nevertheless, her friends from the relay weren't about to let the moment almost 20 years in the making — since Parsons received her associates degree 19 years ago — go by unacknowledged. Bringing a cap and gown under the guise of a graduation-themed lap, Relay organizers also brought Parsons' favorite instructor and several fellow graduates to award the now-Everett resident her bachelor's degree in a surprise ceremony on the field.

"Right before they grabbed me, my instructor showed up, which got me crying because she's a big part of the reason I did this," Parsons said. "It was so Relay."

Parsons was just one of 350 participants creating memories as they walked laps at Quil Ceda Stadium from noon on June 13 until 9 a.m. on June 14 raising money toward cancer research and support of patients in the north Snohomish County area. According to the Relay for Life website, the weekend event raised $123,000.

The relay featured themed laps around the track and special events nearly every hour to keep walkers energized. In addition to Parsons' graduation lap, a boatload of pirates made an appearance. Walkers also donned bathing suits for an afternoon lap and pajamas for an evening lap. A cross-dressing beauty pageant, Mr. Relay took place at 7 p.m., but the emotional highlight of the relay was the traditional Luminaria ceremony.

Small white bags were decorated with the names and images of family and friends lost to cancer. Lit by a small votive candle from inside, the bags circled the track and spelled out the word "hope" on the bleachers of the stadium.

"Each team has a member on the track at all times," said Tracy Anderson, committee chairperson for the north Snohomish County region. "The reason we do that is that cancer never sleeps."

Anderson said turnout was down a little this year due to the difficulty of fundraising in the current economic climate. Still 40 teams turned out to walk and the event had a notable number of survivors show up.

A breast cancer survivor herself, Anderson said she chose to get involved in Relay for Life as opposed to other cancer research fundraisers because of the American Cancer Society's outreach to people with cancers of all kinds. She said that local programs supported by Relay for Life include the Look Good, Feel Better program, which provides patients access to wigs and cosmetics to conceal the side effects of treatment, and Road to Recovery, a volunteer program that takes patients to their often daily appointments. These programs, as well as the cancer resource center at Providence Regional in Everett, serve a large number of patients in the north county.

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