Elena Gauthier remembers the night she found out she had skin cancer.

She was just 6 years old.

A small bump was discovered on her leg while she was in gymnastics, and it was later removed. A week later, before going to bed, her mother told her it was cancer.

Gauthier, now 17 and a junior at Desert Vista High School, was diagnosed with clear cell sarcoma, an extremely rare form of skin cancer. So rare in fact, that only five other cases in the world were reported at the time she was diagnosed.

"I had no idea what it was," said Gauthier, "and I don't ever remember being very scared."

A subsequent surgery was scheduled to look for other tumors, of which none were found, and a couple lymph nodes were removed to ensure nothing would spread to her heart or lungs.

Gauthier's mom recalls the day she went to the hospital for the surgery.

"She asked me if I was scared, and I just said ‘nope mom, we just gotta do what we gotta do' so I guess I had a good attitude," Gauthier said.

She remembers teachers, family and friends being extremely worried through the ordeal.

"Sometimes I felt like I needed to support them, more than they needed to support me," she added.

By the time Gauthier was 12, after having to do frequent screenings, she was told that she was healthy and that no more cancer had sprouted.

Gauthier said it has changed her outlook on life, especially when she sees having a harder time deadling with cancer than she did.

"(I felt) like my experience was nothing compared to theirs," Gauthier added.

That's where the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life comes in.

This year, Gauthier is on the Teen Development Committee for the Relay for Life of Ahwatukee.

"My parents think it's great that I am taking my own experiences and applying it to real life and people who are actually having to deal with it, too," said Gauthier, who began participating her eighth-grade year.

The relay is an international event to end cancer, and takes place overnight to prove the point that cancer never sleeps.

Students, adults, kids and survivors all participate in teams, and need one representative from each team to be on the track at all times.

The relay will be in Ahwatukee Foothills at Desert Vista High School on April 16 and is mostly coordinated by students, including Trey Kennedy, who co-chairs with Sammy Ortiz.

"It's about the whole community and having a day of fun and respecting the people who have dealt with cancer in their lives," said Kennedy, a senior at Desert Vista.

The relay includes a survivor's lap, speeches, luminaries for those who have battled cancer, and a benefit concert for those who raise $100 and stay overnight. Vendors, booths and a kid's corner will also be available.

"Relay is a great event; there is no way you will not go there and meet 10, 20 or 50 people with an amazing story," Gauthier said.

Kennedy said they are expecting about 2,000 people for the event.

"It's really a party for the entire night. There is always stuff to do," he said.

Gauthier said Ahwatukee has many passionate young people who help make the relay what it is.

They have the world on their shoulders, and the students don't think twice about getting out there and fundraising, Gauthier said.

As for those who may attend the relay, Gauthier adds: "You are helping people whether you realize it or not by going to the event."

Relay for Life of Ahwatukee begins at 1 p.m. Saturday April 16 on the track at Desert Vista, 16440 S. 32nd St.

For more information on the relay, or how to set up a team, visit Relay.org/AhwatukeeFoothillsAZ or email Ortiz and Kennedy at ahwatukee.relayforlife@gmail.com.

• Diana Martinez is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a junior at Arizona State University.

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