Cancer survivors and their friends and family filled the Pendleton Convention Center for the Kick’n Cancer Celebration of Life Western Gala Saturday.
The gala raises money for the SPIRIT Program, which offers free massage, exercise and yoga to people fighting cancer.
“I remember being scared, stressed and fighting for my life,” said Donna Collins, one of the women who spoke about their experiences in the program. Doctors diagnosed Collins with an aggressive form of breast cancer in the spring of 1998.
Collins has three children — one was five years old at the time — and she was determined to see her youngest graduate from high school. She was one of the first SPIRIT Program members and for weeks she was the only student in Tania Wildbill’s yoga class. Collins said she had many supportive friends at that time, but the SPIRIT Program was “a gift from God.”
“Tania taught me how to relax and be in control of my body,” she said. “What an idea: instead of the cancer, I could be in control … She taught me how to breathe.”
Without the generosity of those supporting the program, Collins said, she would not be here today.
Gala organizer Cyndy Caldwell said her time in the program helped her feel normal again after a mastectomy and several bouts of energy-draining chemotherapy.
“I’m paying it forward so someone else can take advantage of the program,” she said. “It helps you forget that you’ve been through this, a life-changing experience in some ways.”
Guests at the gala milled around tables filled with goods donated for a live auction and bid on silent auction items such as art, wine and a gas grill. They feasted on a prime rib or salmon dinner with several desserts.
Herb Bitting, one of the leaders of the Cancer Community Renewal Project, which raises money for the SPIRIT program, said he would love to offer other services, such as compression garments to help with lymphedema, a problem for some people who have had lymph nodes removed. He also would like to help patients with transportation to chemotherapy treatments. Those services are available to breast cancer patients through St. Anthony Hospital’s Breast Cancer Special Needs Fund.
The Celebration of Life Gala is now 10 years old. Bitting said gathering donations for this year’s event was dicey at first, perhaps because of the economy.
“But the community stepped up and provided us with some great items,” he said.