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Sandy Roemer, a registered nurse at Howard County General Hospital, said she was "shocked" when a mammogram more than two decades ago revealed her breast cancer diagnosis. Through support from her colleagues and husband, Larry, the Ellicott City resident recovered, only to face a second diagnosis two years later.

Today, Roemer, 63, is a 21-year breast cancer survivor who celebrates her recovery as the captain of the hospital's Relay for Life Healing Angels team.

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Relay for Life of Howard County enters its 22nd year this weekend, featuring 27 teams in an effort to raise $65,000 for the American Cancer Society. The event will be held from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. June 10 to 11 at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Howard County Relay supporters had raised more than $43,550 of their goal, including $10,677 raised by the Howard County General Hospital Healing Angels, the top donor. Roemer said she helped found the hospital's Healing Angels official relay team about 17 years ago.

Cheryl Bell has been participating in the Howard County Relay for Life in Columbia since 2002. After 11 events over the years, one aspect of the daylong effort to support cancer research remains her favorite.

In addition to Roemer's husband, current team members include hospital employee Maia Krapcho and cancer survivors Joanne Locke and Laura Pardue. Roemer said she's worked at Howard County General Hospital for 35 years, where she now educates the public on healthy lifestyles as a community health nurse.

"As a nurse, I really did not know much about breast cancer and all the different types of breast cancer and treatments. So, when I was diagnosed, I contacted the American Cancer Society," Roemer said. "All of their information was free and they were so very helpful to me, even as a health professional."

After her initial diagnosis in June 1994, Roemer received radiation treatment at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson since Howard County General Hospital's radiation center was still under construction. When her second diagnosis was revealed in 1996, she said she wanted her next round of treatment surrounded by the nurses and surgeons she'd come to know at Howard County General.

"I found out that you couldn't have radiation twice on the same site, so I knew that I was facing a mastectomy," Roemer said. "I went to the doctors, my surgeon and plastic surgeon at the hospital because I knew I had complete trust in them. I knew the staff in the operating room and recovery room, so I knew I was in good hands."

From a nurse's perspective, she said, the experience "made me look at things differently and put myself in somebody else's shoes."

Locke, close friends with Roemer, said she continues to support the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life because of their awareness of all cancers, not just breast cancer. Locke is a 15-year breast cancer survivor whose family has faced several forms of cancer over the years, including brain, prostate, melanoma and breast cancer.

Donna Holt was healthy and strong, a breast cancer survivor. But while training for the Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon in 2009, she was surprised to find she couldn't complete the practice swim. Turns out, the breast cancer she had conquered in 1998 had returned and metastasized.

"Some of the other cancers are left behind and are a lot more deadly than breast cancer because they haven't gotten the attention and funding that we have," Locke said. "The Cancer Society not only works with cures, but they also work with quality of life, disseminating information and helping patients through the difficult times of chemo and radiation."

That's not to say that breast cancer is any less tragic, Locke added. Although she was fortunate to not need chemotherapy, the 68-year-old Ellicott City resident said her diagnosis required surgery, radiation and drug treatment.

"When you first hear your name and the word 'cancer' together, it's a gut punch. It was very upsetting," she said. "When anything affects you personally, you become a lot smarter about it. I like the fact that I'm raising money for an organization that I believe in."

Judith Keeler, community development manager for American Cancer Society, said between 350 and 500 participants are expected at this year's Relay for Life of Howard County, which is open to the public and does not require registration. The event was moved to the county fairgrounds after being held at Long Reach High School in Columbia over the last six years.

"We decided to bring it to the Howard County Fairgrounds as a way to make it more of a Howard County event and not only a Columbia event. We wanted to include more of the county because the county is so large," Keeler said.

Throughout the night, participants will remember those who have died and honor those who survived cancer, beginning with a survivor's lap at 6:15 p.m. A luminaria ceremony will begin at dusk, around 9 p.m. Other activities include a lip sync competition and potato sack race, obstacle course, water balloon toss and dance party.

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For more information on Relay for Life of Howard County, go to relay.acsevents.org.



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