When the runners at this year's Maryland Half Marathon make their way across the finish line after 13.1 miles, Amy Babst plans to be there handing out medals with a smile.

"It means so much to me to support those who are raising money to fight cancer," says the 29-year-old Linthicum resident. "Especially as a cancer survivor myself. I'm very lucky. And I have so much to live for."

Indeed, marathon co-founder Michael Greenebaum says the sixth annual race scheduled for May 10 in Howard County is about celebrating life.

"My mother is a 24-year breast-cancer survivor," he says of Marlene Greenebaum. "She's the inspiration."

Seven years ago, Greenebaum and his running buddy Jon Sevel launched the race as a small, informal run with family and friends through Pikesville. In 2009, they made it official, and it has grown in size and scope ever since.

Last year, the event drew some 2,000 participants; new this year is the Maryland 5K, which organizers hope will help draw an even larger crowd, as well as a Kids Fun Run and Kids Zone.

To date, the race has raised more than $1.5 million. As in years past, proceeds will benefit the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, located on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore

"One hundred percent of the net proceeds benefit this nationally recognized cancer center," Sevel said.

For the Greenebaum family, the center has particular significance.

"Back when my mother was diagnosed, my father promised to do something special to celebrate her recovery," says Michael, 49, a real estate developer. "And he did."

In 1996, Stewart Greenebaum surprised his wife and officials with a $10 million gift to the University of Maryland Medical System and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He made the pledge exactly five years to the day he first learned of Marlene's diagnosis. Officials marked the record-breaking donation by renaming the center in honor of the couple.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States — right behind heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society. The society's 2014 data estimates that there will be 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed in this country in 2014, and more than 585,000 deaths.

The statistics and the individuals behind them help drive the Greenebaum center's team.

The facility, a National Cancer Institute-designated center, is ranked in the top tier of cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report.

With some 250 researchers, clinicians and other experts, the center offers a multidisciplinary approach to preventing, detecting and treating all types of cancer. That's complemented by an a cancer research program that incorporates translational research — taking what's done in the lab and trying to bring it into the clinic for the benefit of patients. One example is the research of Angela Hartley Brodie, an award-winning center researcher who's done groundbreaking work in the development of aromatase inhibitors, a newer class of drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, an oncologist, has served as director of the Greenebaum center since 2004.

"Our faculty members may study the causes of cancer pain, and health disparities, or the basic biology of leukemia," says Cullen, referring to the range of research being conducted at the center. "We see about 3,000 newly diagnosed patients annually."

While there are patients who hail from across the country or around the world, many arrive at the center from closer to home.

Among them are people like Babst.

In the summer of 2008, she was 38 weeks' pregnant with her first child, when she woke up one night gasping for air.