Relay works to beat cancer at its own game

Cancer is no game. That was the theme of Laurel's 13th annual Relay For Life, held Saturday, June 11 at McCullough Field, where participants vowed to do everything they could to fight the disease.

Relay teams, each with their own game-related themes like "Cancer is no Candyland" and "Love Means Nothing in Tennis but Everything in Life," aimed to have one member walking the track at all times throughout the night-long event, to symbolize that cancer never sleeps.

For many participants, the night struck a balance between celebrating cancer survivors, remembering lost loved ones and fighting back.

"It's kind of a mixed bag of emotions," said Beverly Raynor, who came dressed as a giant polyp as part of her role as advocacy and education chair for the event organizers. Her team, the Barracudas, was named after the fish's aggressive approach to its prey.

"We're really into ripping up and beating up cancer," she said.

Other teams focused on honoring the memory of those who had died of the disease. Nancy Becraft's team, Michelle's Best Buddies, was named after Becraft's daughter, who died from a brain tumor in 1990.

Michelle was a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, when she was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the difficulty of going through treatments, she still tried to keep up with classes, Becraft said. She recalled how Michelle had gone through experimental treatments that she wasn't sure would be effective for her, because they might ultimately help others. After she was diagnosed, she participated in a walk to benefit multiple sclerosis research, even though she did not personally know anyone who had the disease.

"I had a really neat daughter," Becraft said.

Becraft has been attending the relay since it began in Laurel and served as co-chair of the event for four years. She continues to help out with the logistics, arriving early in the morning the day before to help set up the field and staying late the day after to supervise the cleanup.

She says she participates in Relay for Life because of the hope it creates for a cancer-free future.

"We're hoping that, through all the efforts of everybody, we'll be able to find a cure for cancer," she said.

About 300 participants, making up 30 teams, rallied behind that cause throughout the night until the closing ceremony at dawn. Participants raised more than $81,480 to go towards cancer research and education. Donations will continue to be collected through the end of August.

Although participants were drawn together by the effect cancer has had on their lives, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly joyful. A dunk tank and sno-cone stand provided entertainment, and a DJ spun upbeat background music. Cancer survivors, the event's guests of honor, took the relay's inaugural lap behind a motorcade of riders from Laurel American Legion Post 60, to applause from the rest of the crowd.

Co-organizers Mandi Phillips and Kristy Leyton said the community feeling that was shown is part of what makes the event so special.

"I think seeing all the survivors here is what gets me every time," Phillips said. She added that the luminaria ceremony, in which candles are lit and placed inside bags — purple for survivors and white for those who have died — was one of the relay's most powerful moments.

"We want more purple bags each year," she said.

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