By Dan Singer
6:00 AM EDT, May 21, 2013
Nancy Becraft has a T-shirt from each year Laurel has held a Relay for Life, and has witnessed the growth of the event since the first relay in 1999.
"We only started out with about 11 teams," Becraft said.
This year there are 40 teams, and counting.
The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life is a summer fundraising and awareness event organized in thousands of communities across the country. Participants, many of whom are cancer survivors and their families or friends, form teams and spend the evening walking laps around a track and enjoying planned entertainment.
Laurel's 2013 relay, the city's 15th overall, will be held June 8 and 9 at McCullough Field. The event will run from 5 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday.
Becraft, a four-time chairperson of Laurel's relay committee, was inspired to get involved after losing her daughter Michelle Becraft to a brain tumor in 1990.
Becraft was a featured speaker at Sunday's Cancer Survivor-Caregiver Brunch, an event held at American Legion Post 60 to honor survivors before the relay, and all of her T-shirts from past years were on display.
"It's a very enthusiastic group of people," she said. "It sounds crazy walking all through the night, but we do a lot of activities to make it fun."
City officials provide various resources and security for the event free of charge, Becraft said, and a number of businesses are sponsors each year. Donations go toward cancer research and local patient services.
"That's always a good feeling, to know that the money is going to stay in the area," she said.
This year's relay theme is "Cancer never takes a holiday," according to Mandi Phillips, one of the event chairs. Teams will decorate McCullough Field inspired by holidays ranging from traditional fare to more obscure and funny ones.
Annual Relay for Life traditions include opening and closing ceremonies, a first lap taken by cancer survivors and a luminaria ceremony, during which participants honor survivors and cancer victims with paper lanterns.
"It's the most touching part of the whole thing," Phillips said of the luminaria. "They go through every emotion."
Aside from a relay at University of Maryland, Laurel has the only Relay for Life event in Prince George's County, Phillips said.
"We're not all from Laurel," she said. "It's a larger community."
'It only takes one cell'
This year also marks the American Cancer Society's 100th birthday.
American Cancer Society Community Manager Stephanie Hubbard said there has been a 20 percent decline in cancer death rates in the United States since 1991, and the organization hopes to continue to raise awareness and funds through future Relay for Life events.
"Our goal is ultimately to finish the fight against cancer," Hubbard said. "We're trying to put ourselves out of work."
Joyce and Gil Leader, who attended Sunday's Survivor-Caregiver Brunch, said that, combined, they have lived more than 75 years as cancer survivors.
"Cancer is a whole new family," Joyce Leader said. "It's good to recognize and help each other."
Twenty-one years after receiving treatment for prostate cancer, Gil Leader said he is reminded of his battle every day.
"It only takes one cell to multiply," he said. "It could come up at any time and you just have to be vigilant."
"There's always someone worse off than you," Joyce Leader said. "We're very fortunate. "
Beverly Raynor, the Laurel relay committee's mission advocacy chair, is leading a team this year named "The Barracudas."
When a barracuda goes after its prey, it "rips it up, shreds it to pieces and when it's done there's nothing left," Raynor said. "That's the idea of going after cancer: ripping it up so there's nothing left and we're cancer-free."
Raynor said she enjoys the team spirit of Relay for Life and the opportunity to make a difference in the community.
"The American Cancer Society has been doing this for 100 years," she said. "We don't want to keep it going another hundred years. Let's finish the fight."
For more information on Laurel Relay for Life, go to relayforlifelaurel.org.
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