The Mountain Home community is fortunate because it plays host to a number of events throughout the year that seek to bring people together for some very noble causes. Many times, these events also draw attention to some often-overlooked issues that directly affect those living here.
Earlier this week, our community hosted another of these gatherings as it welcomed hundreds of motorcycle riders to our town during this year's Patriot Thunder observance. These men and women gathered in Meridian early Sunday and traveled here in a procession stretching several miles to help our nation's military veterans, in particular those most in need of help.
Patriot Thunder has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2010 when 500 riders made the trek from the Treasure Valley to Mountain Home Air Force Base. With the venue moving to Mountain Home the following year, it has continued to grow in the number of riders that join that procession as well as the money raised to support various veterans' charities, including Operation Warmheart at the local Air Force Base.
It's still too early to know how much money Patriot Thunder actually raised this time around. However, once all the money is counted, every penny will go toward directly helping those in our own community.
It's refreshing when I learn more about the people that make the ride, regardless of the weather. They come from all walks of life, from doctors and lawyers to Vietnam-era veterans and those currently on active duty.
Seeing so many people come together for this type of cause simply makes me feel proud to be an American. As a veteran myself, I've had to take advantage of these type of relief organizations during my military career, in particular one that helped cover my travel expenses so I could fly home after my grandmother died back in 1990.
I've never forgotten how these agencies really do support our veterans in their times of need, and I've done what I can over the years to repay that debt.
The next event I need to mention is scheduled for this Saturday when Mountain Home hosts this year's Relay for Life. Over a 12-hour period, people from Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry and other communities across Elmore County will come together to not only raise money for cancer research and treatment but to remind people that cancer never "sleeps."
Each year that I've covered the relay, I have the opportunity to speak to a number of people making the trek around the community park. The ones that catch my attention the most are those wearing purple T-shirts, signifying they are either currently battling the disease or have survived this ordeal.
One story that hit me the hardest last year involved Mila Peace, who at age 4 was one of the youngest relay participants still fighting cancer. She was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that took hold in her spinal cord before she was three years old.
Instead of enjoying her childhood like others her age, Mila spent 18 months undergoing chemotherapy treatment. At that point, the disease hadn't spread and the tumors stopped growing although her fight was far from over.
Then there were others like Bill Wean, who was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago. The tumor doctors discovered came with it some terrible news — he was given just two years to live.
However, he is one of the fortunate ones. By the time he started the relay, he was cancer free. It's stories like this that continue to inspire me while offering a glimmer of hope for the future.
Consider this; about 100 years ago, people diagnosed with cancer knew that it was a death sentence, meaning there was no cure. Today, the survival rate has climbed to 70 percent.
This is why events like Relay for Life are so important both in terms of raising awareness and raising money. With most of the money raised going directly toward cancer research and education programs, it's clear that every dollar helps make a difference.
On a personal level, the threat of cancer is one of those things that scares me and will sometimes keep me awake at night. It's because I've had too many loved ones in my life that have contracted the disease.
Too many of them lost that battle.
The most recent happened just a few weeks ago when I learned that Ellen, one of my high school friends, died from cancer. Once news of her passing hit social media, me and my fellow classmates struggled to comprehend the fact that she was gone. At last count, Ellen was the second of our graduating class that we had lost due to cancer, and statistically we know she won't be the last.
On July 20, my family will mark the sixth anniversary of the passing of my wife's father, who was stricken with at least one form of blood cancer. To this day, I still can't adequately put into words how I felt that day other than feeling absolutely helpless and powerless. There was nothing I could say or do that would make things better.
It's reasons like this that my family takes time out of their day each year to walk a couple laps around Carl Miller Park during Relay for Life.
It's my sincere hope that you will take time out of your busy schedule that day and become a part of this very special event.
My wife and I complete each lap around Carl Miller Park in memory of everyone we've lost along the way — parents, grandparents and close friends. I made it a point to keep others in my thoughts as we walk, including my friend and mentor, Kelly, and my former Air Force boss, Robyn, both of whom fought the disease, beat overwhelming odds against them and at last check were both doing good.
My family takes it an extra step when we walk additional laps in honor of two family pets that we lost to cancer, the most recent of which happened two years ago.
It's for these and many other reasons that Relay for Life remains near and dear to my heart. I can only hope some day that we will finally find a cure for this disease.
I hope that in years to come that people will no longer have to endure the pain to fight cancer and that their families no longer have to deal with the different type of pain they also carry.
However, I am encouraged knowing that the odds of surviving the disease continue to improve. For those fighting cancer and those providing care for these patients, I'm reminded of a message a survivor relayed to me last year: "Keep hope; the cure is coming."
— Brian S. Orban