Issaquah fights back against cancer at Relay for Life

June 5, 2012

By Christina Lords

Relay for Life draws 900 participants, $244,000 in donations

Relay for Life event chairwoman Gwen Schweitzer paused among the chaos that encircled her long enough to bend down and give her grandmother a kiss on the forehead.Around them, nearly 900 participants packed the track and field of Skyline High School’s football turf for this year’s Relay for Life on June 2.

After being diagnosed with brain cancer several years ago, Schweitzer’s grandmother made the trip this year across the state from Colfax to celebrate the day with her — a moment not lost amid the loud music, festive colors and vendor booths.

“She’s here,” Schweitzer said, tears brimming in her eyes. “She made the drive here. They gave her less than a year to live. She was in a hospice, and she rebounded. It was nothing short of amazing.”

About $200,000 was raised for the relay before it even began at noon. By 4 p.m. Saturday, an additional $28,000 had rolled in to support cancer research, lodging for patients and caregivers facing treatment in another city, and transportation to and from treatment facilities.

How to help

Help the Issaquah Relay for Life reach its $300,000 annual goal by going to to donate online.

After it was all said and done, the 20-hour event raised more than $244,000, Schweitzer said. It was the 14th annual Relay for Life in the Issaquah area.

The day began with a Survivor’s Lap, where cancer survivors gathered together to take one lap around the track in a visible act of camaraderie and strength, Schweitzer said.

“It’s amazing to see some of these small kids that are 8, 9 or 10 years old walking post diagnosis,” she said. “It’s really satisfying to see them walk that track. It’s electrifying.”

Nearly half of the 890 participants in the 85 teams are local youths.

“Everybody has someone who has had cancer in their life,” Schweitzer said.

No one can attest to that more than Cassidy Unpingco.

The 17-year-old Skyline student and her family recently rallied around her grandmother after she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, which later metastasized to her brain. After 17 months of battling the illness, Unpingco’s grandmother died.

“In my culture — we’re Filipino — we take care of our elders,” she said. “It was so hard watcher her deteriorate. She went from using a walker and in the next few weeks was stuck to complete bed rest. I would feed her and give her water, give her sponge baths, change her diapers.”

After the diagnoses, she said she felt compelled to do something. Last year was Unpingco’s first relay. This year, she walked to honor her grandmother, raising $4,000 — the most of any youth participant — through social media and with the help of her all-youth team Zakiiya.

“With my grandma’s passing, I know I’m doing this relay full force, 110 percent in her memory,” she said.

Unpingco said she would encourage anyone and everyone to get involved with the event each year because sooner or later, everyone will know a family member, a friend or a mentor facing cancer.

“This is a way for people to share stories, especially people facing a new diagnosis,” Schweitzer said. “It can be comforting. You see people who share their stories 10 years after diagnosis and to some people it’s like, ‘You’ve survived 10 years. Maybe my story isn’t as scary.’”

Christina Lords 392-6434, ext. 239, or Comment at
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