Despite early morning frost, fate seemed to be with the Hesperia Relay for Life as the eighth annual event kicked off with sunny skies, a record number of teams and plenty of enthusiasm and hope.


The reason for the sunshiny attitude?


"The number of cancer deaths is declining," Suzanne James, a former Hesperia Relay for Life chairwoman, said during Saturday morning's kickoff ceremony at Hesperia Civic Plaza Park. "More people are surviving."


Speaker Herb Hauser talked about his winning fight against pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed a year and a half ago.


"'You know there's only 4 percent survival rate,' the first doctor told me," Hauser recalled. "And the doctor walked out of the room. Then another doctor came in and said the same thing."


But Hauser had a choice to let their words define his future, "Or I could have faith in my Father in Heaven."


Hauser's faith was tested, and affirmed, many steps of the way. Just two months earlier, he lost his job and health insurance coverage. But he credited St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley for trying to find a facility that would help him receive necessary treatment without coverage. Staff members called 11 other hospitals, but none would take him, Hauser said.


Then he had a turn of events: Hauser discovered he qualified for COBRA, which enabled his insurance coverage to continue. He went to UC Irvine where a highly regarded cancer specialist performed his surgery. Hauser had chemotherapy before and after surgery.


Today, Hauser views himself as a living testimony to his faith.


"I'm cancer-free, folks," Hauser said. "This is part of life. We all go through ups and downs, but I bear proof that there is a God in Heaven."


'We're going to weather this storm too'


Rebekah Swanson, a member of the Hesperia Recreation and Park District's board of directors, encouraged all to join in the fight and to support everyone touched by cancer.


"Survivors look around," she said. "You're not alone. We're here together. We're here for you.... Today I'm looking around and I'm not seeing a bunch of fair weather friends. And we would have been hearing if it were raining, if it were snowing, which it almost was last night, and we're going to weather this storm too together."


After Saturday's "survivor's lap," participants enjoyed fun activities and took themed laps around the park including "Three-Legged Lap," "Crazy Tie Lap," and "Wild Wig Lap. Hair Factory cut hair for Locks For Love.


Additional opening ceremony participants included American Legion Post 725, singer Jessica Butler, Pastor Bob Wicherts, Mayor Pro Tem Russ Blewett, Hesperia WildCat Cheerleaders, Event co-chair Michelle Franquez.


Saturday's luminaria ceremony featured participants Rebecca Esposito, Rene De La Cruz, Carol Olivarez, Rebecca Esposito and a lap of silence featuring caregivers.


On Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m., event chair Tracy Moyer, Tracy Tate and relay manager Danielle Polliard were scheduled to give remarks, event totals and lead the final lap.


According to organizers on Saturday, many teams raised $1,000 and above. In fact, several raised more than $7,500 by the time the relay began. The event attracted several hundred survivors, caretakers and supporters.


Tracy Moyer, who is chairwoman of this year's event, said the small flags fluttering in the wind in front of the stage represented cancer survivors. The money raised from the relay and other donations to the American Cancer Society gives them hope.


"We need you. Hesperia needs you. Everyone of these flags represent survivors who need you."


To contribute to the American Cancer Society, call (800) 227-2345 or log onto RelayForLife.org.