Relay For Life Participants Endure Weather to Fight Cancer

Cancer survivors take the first lap Saturday during Relay for Life Menifee at Paloma Valley High...

Cancer survivors take the first lap Saturday during Relay for Life Menifee at Paloma Valley High School.
Hundreds turned out for Saturday's Relay For Life Menifee at Paloma Valley High School, despite the heat and questionable air quality from recent fires nearby.

Cancer survivors, their caregivers and supporters battle a disease that affects 1.2 million new patients a year. They weren't going to let the weather stop them from fundraising and educating the public. They had bigger concerns.

For Sal Aguirre, his biggest concern was finding a match for a bone marrow transplant. In May 2012 he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia after his wife Googled what he thought were flu symptoms. By the time he got to the clinic and went through several tests, the doctors admitted him to a hospital immediately. His white blood cell count was extremely below the normal range, at a meek 108, when it's supposed to be somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000.

"They told me I should've dropped dead a long time ago," said Aguirre, who's in law enforcement. "I was crushed."

Altogether, he spent about seventh months in the hospital, weak and bedridden while receiving treatments. As a military man, Aguirre struggled to adjust.

"It was a really big blow to be told, 'You can't do that, you're too weak,'" he said. "The nurses kept telling me, 'You don't get it, you have nothing to fight off an infection.' If someone sick came in and coughed on me, I could've died."

His wife, Kristi, said Sal still goes to work and does everything normally despite being in urgent need of a transplant.

"He has a 10 percent survival rate for the next three years," she said. "So we're looking at one year."

The Aguirres have been long-time supporters of Relay For Life, but didn't start a team until Sal was diagnosed. Their family and friends now make up the "Strikeout Cancer" team, or "Team Sal," and use the event to educate people about the different types of leukemia and how easy it is to become a bone marrow donor.

They've been struggling to find a match, but are still hopeful.

"It's frustrating because we can't find someone, but Relay For Life helped because we met other survivors who went through the same thing," said Kristi. "If we don't find anyone, we hope we can help someone else."

Sal explained it's now easier than ever to donate, and urges willing donors to visit www.bethematch.org.