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Virtual Relay for Life: A Success Story By Sarah Svahn

Virtual Relay for Life: A Success Story

By Sarah Svahn

On June 6, 2020, the American Cancer Society’s Diablo Valley Relay For Life held its first “virtual” event. In previous years, the relay’s home was Pleasant Hill Middle School, where many teams of individuals of all ages set up booths and tents and filled the track and field with their activities. This year, the leadership team, headed by Sara Wright, Sharon Wilkerson, and Karen Sanderson-Graham, under the guidance of American Cancer Society’s Jennifer Nash, was not deterred by the necessary shelter-in-place restrictions caused by the pandemic; they were determined to make this year’s relay as successful as ever. In fact, the online platform allowed for some additional opportunities that were not previously available. Content such as speeches, scavenger hunts, exercise videos, and performances were uploaded to the website according to the schedule. The virtual event also had pre-recorded messages from the mayors of Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek. Participants could follow along as the day progressed or watch each piece at their convenience. My mom, Tiffany Svahn, an oncologist at Diablo Valley Oncology, delivered a speech about her work with cancer patients, advances in cancer treatment, and the role that fundraising plays in raising money for cancer research.

One of everyone’s favorite events at the relay is the Luminaria Ceremony, which is typically held at nightfall. The ceremony includes meaningful words, poems, music, and a survivor speech. The track is beautifully lit by luminaria bags that have been decorated in honor of survivors or in memory of those who have lost their lives. This year, the luminaria bags were decorated online, and a video montage of the bags was set to live music by the talented Don Richardson. Cancer survivor Shari Palladino poignantly shared the story of her cancer journey. It was my role to lead the Luminaria Ceremony, which I have done for the past three years. My goal and hope this year was that our virtual attendees felt they were actually sitting on the field and experiencing the ceremony in person.  

This year’s virtual Relay For Life had 132 registered participants plus many more who “stopped by” to take part in the event, raising an impressive $74,835! Donations can still be made through Saturday, July 18, via the Diablo Valley Relay For Life website. Sponsors included Diablo Valley Oncology, Postino, Rotary Club of Pleasant Hill, Fremont Bank, Republic Services, 96.5 Koit, Pleasant Hill Lions Club, and 102.9 FM KBLX. All content from the 2020 Virtual Relay For Life of Diablo Valley is still available for viewing on the website.  

All in all, Diablo Valley’s first virtual Relay For Life was a tremendous success, and we look forward to seeing what next year’s relay will bring!

Sarah Svahn is a senior at Miramonte High School, the volunteer coordinator at California Cancer & Research Institute, and chairperson for American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life Luminaria Ceremony for the past three years. Dr. Svahn is a medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist with Diablo Valley Oncology and Hematology Medical Group in Pleasant Hill. She is the medical director of the Women’s Cancer Center of the East Bay. For more information, please call 925-677-5041 or visit