When planning a grand-scale Sweet Sixteen sleepover celebrating life, love and the fierce fight against cancer, it doesn't hurt to share family history.
Kristy Murray and Mandi Phillips — co-chairwomen of the 16th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Laurel at McCullough Field this weekend — played softball together and have been since they were tweens.
"My mother and her mother were best friends," Phillips said.
"And we were best friends," Murray added.
In 2009, when Murray's grandmother succumbed to pancreatic cancer and Phillips' mom, Pam Phillips, underwent radical intestinal surgery and chemotherapy at Mercy Medical Center, the two young women naturally turned to each other for support.
"I didn't like driving into Baltimore city alone, and Kristy would always go with me. Kristy and her family were very supportive," Phillips said.
Mandi and Pam Phillips and Murray joined the survivors committee at their first Relay for Life at McCullough Field five years ago. Phillips remembers her mom being so sick from chemo that she had to be driven around the lap in a cart.
Today, Pam Phillips is an energetic five-year survivor who will walk with her daughter at the relay on June 7. Murray will join them, of course, to honor her grandmother.
In 2010, in the afterglow of their success organizing a fundraising dinner at Pallotti High School, Murray volunteered her best friend to work with her as co-chairwoman of the Laurel relay. Huck Bothner, of Laurel, and Linda Holt were vacating the positions.
Murray and Phillips said Bothner, who died of cancer May 27, served as an invaluable mentor.
Pam Phillips' battle with cancer profoundly affected her daughter's journey. Last year, Mandi Phillips went to work for Dr. Armando Sardo, the surgical oncologist who treated her mother, and she's recently been promoted to surgical coordinator.
The mother of two young children and a day care teacher, Murray said she usually prefers to let Phillips take the lead. Phillips said that Murray is the creative half of the co-chairwoman position, and that she serves more as the business manager.
"After years of doing this together, we don't even have to talk about who's going to do what. We just do it," Phillips said.
This will be their fifth year as Relay for Life co-chairwomen, and Phillips and Murray are ready to pass the torch and continue their work on relay committees.
Phillips, 27, said the most exhilarating moment in the experience for her has been standing on stage at McCullough Field taking in the outpouring of support and participation.
"For me, it's been at the end of every relay," Murray, 29, added. "It's like, 'Gosh, we did it.' "
Executive committee member Darlene Brecht, of Laurel, said that Phillips and Murray have brought a fresh perspective because "they're younger and full of energy.
"They've brought new excitement, especially during the overnight hours, by introducing new games and special laps," Brecht said.
Brecht and her husband, Robin, both cancer survivors, have attended every Relay for Life of Laurel with their family and are luminaria committee co-chairs. Darlene Brecht said they got involved with the relay in 1999, after her mother, Beverly Hubbuch, was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 1998.
Hubbuch won that battle and attended the Laurel relays until she succumbed to a newly diagnosed brain tumor on New Years Day in 2007.