Taking steps to stop a killer; Relay for Life to raise money, hopes in fight against cancer


James and Judy Cifala have been involved in the fight against cancer for almost a decade, making donations and participating in fund-raising walks and runs. But the Linthicum couple have stepped up their efforts this year, bringing together nearly 100 family members and friends to walk in their local Relay for Life.

Judy Cifala, 31, has not been stricken with cancer, but several of her relatives have, she said. An uncle battled prostate cancer, and the breast cancer of another close relative recently went into remission.

So, after putting together two relay teams last year, she and her husband volunteered as co-chairwoman and co-chairman of Linthicum's second Relay for Life -- a walk that helps the American Cancer Society raise money for research, patient services and educational programs.

But the Cifalas said the walk provides more than money. The relative with breast cancer is struggling with the stigma that can come with a cancer diagnosis, said Judy Cifala, who operates a therapeutic massage business in Linthicum.

The relative thinks that the breast cancer is "something she caused to happen," said Jim Cifala, a 37-year-old Anne Arundel County police corporal. "That's why this event is so important. It gives the survivors a chance to see that other people in the area and in Maryland are dealing with this."

Teams can register until the start of the relay at 6 p.m. Friday on the track at Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School. Participants will take turns walking or running the track until 10 the next morning.

Round-the-clock walking

The goal is for each team to keep at least one member on the track at all times, while others rest or check out the entertainment at the relay site.

Last year, 14 teams of eight to 15 people entered the Linthicum relay, one of three Relay for Life events in Anne Arundel County. This year, close to 50 teams have registered -- and more may turn up on race day, Judy Cifala said.

Unlike some charity races, donations are not based on the miles or time walked. Instead, flat-rate contributions are collected up front and turned in the day of the race.

Teams choose a theme -- such as "Hula for the Moola" or "All I Want for Christmas Is a Cure" -- and fashion costumes and tent areas around it. One of the Cifala family's eight teams will be decked out in baseball uniforms, and plans to munch on hot dogs and roasted peanuts.

Although the event is designed to be fun, there are serious moments.

A reception before the relay will feature addresses by medical experts and a cancer survivor. Cancer survivors will make the first lap of the relay arm-in-arm, and at sundown there will be a pause in the relay as participants light luminarias around the track in honor of cancer victims.

Luminarias can be purchased in memory or celebration of someone who has had cancer, Judy Cifala said. "Then they light them by groups for the mothers, for the fathers, for all the other people who have been affected."

International event

The Relay for Life traces its origins to 1985, when a doctor in Washington state raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society by jogging around a track for 24 hours. Last year, 2,700 Relays for Life were held across the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.

The Cifalas have been organizing the Linthicum relay for months -- inviting survivors, soliciting donations and planning entertainment -- but said the hard work is worth it.

"It's very time-consuming, but when it's all said and done, when you're tired and worn out, it really does stir your emotions," Jim Cifala said. "It's not just because of our family members. It's because this can affect everybody."

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