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My mommy made the LA Times!

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Party with a purpose

Tributes, promise embraced at annual 24-hour Relay for Life.

Deepa Bharath, Daily Pilot

NEWPORT BEACH — Beverly Nassif's feet were trudging a makeshift track at Newport Harbor High School.

But her heart and her mind were with her late husband, Charles, who died of mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer believed to be caused by exposure to asbestos. He died on Thanksgiving Day.

Beverly Nassif also lost both her parents to cancer. And she had a lot in common with hundreds of other people who were pounding that track at the third annual Relay for Life, a benefit for the American Cancer Society.

This year, between 800 and 1,000 people participated in the 24-hour walk, which began Friday night at 7 p.m., organizers said.

On Friday night, participants lighted luminarias either in memory of a loved one lost to cancer or in honor of a survivor who has or is fighting the disease. On Saturday morning, the luminarias that resemble white paper bags, lined the track.

Messages of love and remembrance were written on the luminarias to friends, dads, moms, sisters and brothers.

For those like Beverly Nassif, the event is a way to memorialize those who died fighting a horrible disease.

"It's not just that this person had cancer and passed away," she said. "This event sends a message that we have not forgotten about them."

The event has also been great for her children, who are coping with the loss of their father who was only 56 when he died, Nassif said.

"They've met other kids who've lost parents," she said. "They know they're not alone and understand what everyone is going through."

Gaylene Olson, who works as an office administrator for the Newport Beach Fire Department, was wearing a visor with the word "sis" on it. He sister Sharon Alwin died of leukemia nine years ago.

"That's her," she said, pointing to a luminaria that had Alwin's name on it with the message: "We love you and miss you."

"I think it's an inspiration to see how this disease has affected so many people," Olson said. "It lifts your spirits to see people who have survived it."

Marsha Weiss was one of those survivors. Weiss' daughter, Andrea Sheff, had formed a relay team for the Lung Cancer Support Group and called it Marsha's Heroes.

Weiss was diagnosed with lung cancer in November. She finished her radiation treatment days ago.

"Does she look like she has lung cancer?" Sheff asked proudly, pointed to her mom.

Weiss smiled shyly.

"This is beautiful," Weiss said. "It gives me hope because I know now that there are many people like me fighting this disease."

Sandi Vanian, event chair, said the group expects to meet its fundraising goals by hitting the $8000-mark this year.

"Last year, we hit a snag because of the rain and unfavorable weather," she said. "But this year has been great. It's a beautiful day and the atmosphere is great."

The event also brings different people in the community together, Vanian said.

"You hang out with people like city council members and city officials with whom you normally don't get to hang out in such a setting," she said. "That's why it's great.

"It's a 24-hour party."

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Sorry I am in Denmark, and not involved, but I want to be and I want to help you with all your are doing, for my Mom, and your Mom and everyone fighting, living with, or have lost to this terrible disease. Please email me directly at my hotmail account, stepholivieri@hotmail.com

I think about it al lthe time and want to do something, especially since Mom died in March. I feel like I am helpless from so far.

Big HUGS for all your spunk! Hope to hear from you soon.


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