Cancer doesn't discriminate.
Rich or poor, black or white, old or young, male or female — more often than not, a bout with cancer is just a terrible luck of the draw. And that makes it particularly important to remember loved ones lost to cancer and to support those who are currently battling the often deadly disease.
Lake Oswego's Evening of Hope, sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS), was meant to accomplish just that on Friday evening: provide a venue for family, friends and neighbors to come together, support each other and give encouragement to those fighting for their lives.
"Cancer has touched everybody," said Rhonda Cohen, an Evening of Hope organizer and ACS volunteer. "This event allows us to celebrate survivors and remember those that we've lost. It also helps to give people hope who are currently diagnosed or about to be diagnosed."
Cohen has helped organize ACS events since she moved to Oregon 13 years ago. She initially got involved after she lost her mother to cancer in 1999. She says she sees it as a way to remain connected to her mother while promoting an organization whose work can actually make a difference in the lives of those they've made it their mission to champion.
Over the years, Cohen has seen an outpouring of support from the Lake Oswego community that she personally finds inspirational.
"Our community has supported the event over the years at different levels and different ways. Some people support with their time, with donations from local businesses, with their wallets, and all of it matters. It all counts. We couldn't put this together without the support of our community," Cohen said.
Kim Valley is one of those supporters. Valley's father passed away in 1988 from complications due to brain cancer. The next year, she and co-workers of the surgery center where she worked started their own team in the Relay for Life, a fundraising event that has since morphed in many places into the Evening of Hope.
Valley continued volunteering after moving to Lake Oswego nearly 12 years ago.
"I'm doing it this year because I really like that they're focusing on talking to survivors and seeing if they need anything, making sure they have all the resources they need and to celebrate them as well," Valley said.
Friday evening's event saw dozens of Lake Oswego residents strolling through Millennium Plaza Park, socializing and popping their heads into booths that sponsored giveaways and other prizes themed for the evening.
Luminaria bags with messages of remembrance and support lined the reflecting pool at the park's west end. Candles and flowers floated on the water's surface in a display of reverence, while the ceremonial releasing of doves — an iconic representation of lives lost to cancer — elegantly memorialized the moment.
Emma Winter, 16, lost her aunt to endometrial cancer four years ago; since then, she has volunteered with the ACS out of solidarity for those who share similar experiences.
Winter's role over the past couple years has been to help people create their own luminaria bags to honor their family or friends who have fought or are currently fighting cancer.
The seriousness of the issue isn't lost on Winter, whose father, William Winter, is a local oncologist. She said she's proud of the way her community comes together in support of each other's struggle against a disease that shows no prejudice.
"When you see how many luminaria bags are set out (along the reflecting pool), you see just how many people have suffered from cancer, and it's a reminder that you're not alone," Winter said. "To see people come together and rally around each other to show that we're not alone feels good."
YOU CAN HELP
To donate to the Lake Oswego Evening of Hope project, go to tinyurl.com/LOEveningofHope; through Wednesday morning, the event had raised more than $58,000.