Kona Relay for Life marks 25 years Saturday at Hale Halawai

  • Sharilyn and Mark Dewey explain the significance of the Run for Life and their personal connection to the event. (Adam Pigott/ West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Mixing fundraising, exercise and fun, Relay for Life has been raising awareness and earning money for last 25 years in Kona to help those suffering from cancer.

It can be a lonely, scary experience fighting the debilitating disease, but every year, rain or shine, survivors and their loved ones gather in support of each other and celebrate life with their fighting spirits, smiling in the face of adversity.

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“We do not have a lot of events in Kona,” said Sharilyn Dewey, a member of the leadership team at Relay for Life, hosted by the American Cancer Society on Saturday. “It becomes a social event and something to look forward to. I look forward to it every year, and I want other people to, as well.”

The Dewey family has done a substantial amount of work in the fight against cancer. In just two days, Sharilyn and Mark Dewey’s granddaughter, Peyton, raised more than $500 on Facebook through a toy donation drive.

“This was so awesome,” Sharilyn Dewey said. “My first reaction is to shield the kids because I do not want them worrying and being fearful. However, I then started to think about great this was … It is great that they are learning how to give back at such an early age.”

Both Deweys have a personal connection to Relay for Life and the ACA.

About two and a half years ago, Mark Dewey was diagnosed with one of the most aggressive and rare forms of thyroid cancer. The cancer was found by accident — when Mark underwent surgery to look for a blood clot, the surgeon took a look near his thyroid and discovered Mark had cancer. His form of cancer is typically undetectable for a long period of time, and cannot be detected by positron emission tomography, or PET, scans, which reveal how one’s tissues are functioning.

By the time it is discovered, according to Mark, it is usually too late.

“The doctor kept telling us, ‘We are in front of this,’” Sharilyn Dewey said. “He finally said to us that they will never be in front of my husband’s cancer because it is never going to go away. The told us that they were on top of his cancer … He told Mark, ‘You have to be ready to fight at all times. Think of yourself as a boxer or MMA fighter. You have to be ready to step in the ring at all times.’”

This year’s Kona event will run from 4 p.m. to midnight at Hale Halawai, a new venue for the event that draws hundreds of volunteer participants and raised around $90,000 in recent years. At 9 p.m., luminaries will be lit in memory of all whose lives have been touched by cancer. Bags are $10. Entrance to the event is free.

Cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, will haunt nearly 1.7 million Americans and their families in 2019 and claim almost 600,000 lives.

Based on data from assembled by the National Cancer Institute between 2010-2012, nearly 40 percent of all people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

Some organizations in Hawaii have joined the battle already, including the Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union. Through its branches in Hilo, Kohala and Honokaa, it brought in $9,702 for Hilo’s Relay for Life event last month.

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The Deweys are grateful for the support ACS has given them thus far. While their journey is far from complete, they know they have much to celebrate.

“We are so grateful for all of the help provided by the Relay for Life,” Mark said. “For one, we are grateful for the financial help. We did not have the money to do what needed to be done. Combating cancer is an expensive journey, and the American Cancer Society has picked up most of it.”