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For the first time in western Howard, walkers will take to the track to benefit the American Cancer Society

The Baltimore Sun

Colleen Warner, a breast cancer survivor, has been participating in the Relay for Life held at Hammond High School for six years - starting the year before she was diagnosed with the disease.

On Friday, she is celebrating four cancer-free years by leading a team in a relay closer to home, the first Western Howard County Relay for Life.

"I live in western Howard County and so do some other people on our team," said Warner, 50, who lives in Cooksville. "When they announced they would have a Western Howard County Relay, I thought, 'This is a wonderful way to get more people involved.'"

Her 10-member team was within a few dollars of her $1,000 fundraising goal, she said.

Participants in Relay for Life events have two challenges - collecting donations for the American Cancer Society and putting together teams that walk a track all night. The events raise money and cancer awareness and honor survivors, who walk the first lap. A candlelight ceremony remembers those who have lost their lives.

The 13-year-old Hammond event, held in early June, raised nearly $240,000 this year.

That race has become so popular that the American Cancer Society decided there was room in Howard County for a second relay, said Jason Copley, the American Cancer Society staff member who works with volunteers to organize the events in Howard and Carroll counties.

The Western Howard County Relay for Life, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Western Regional Park, brings the number of relays in the Baltimore region to 23, he said.

Walkers will circle a paved track, about a quarter-mile long, in the new park, Copley said.

The evening will begin with a reception for survivors at 5, followed by opening ceremonies at 6:30. After that, the walking will begin, continuing until about 7 a.m.

Since the relay coincides with a concert at the park by blues pianist Deanna Bogart, participants will be serenaded for at least part of their journey, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. If the weather is bad, walkers will move to the indoor track at Glenwood Community Center.

By Monday, the western teams had collected nearly $50,000, far more than the $30,000 goal set by the Cancer Society. It has also passed its 200-person participant goal, with more than 260 walkers signed on with 16 teams, Copley said.

One Western team is being headed by Warner's 16-year-old daughter, Mary Kate, who will lead five or six other Glenelg High School students.

"I'm really proud that she has decided to spread the news about cancer awareness and to try to do something about it," Warner said of her daughter.

Also supporting the cause is Rosemary Clark, who has helped create a quilt that will be auctioned at the relay, with the money going to the American Cancer Society. Clark, who has a business called Dream Quilts, organized classes at the Glenwood center that guided students through the process of creating squares for the quilt. The quilt's dominant color is purple, the color of the Relay for Life, and the stars resemble the relay's logo.

Betty Frey, 50, the event chairwoman, has been working since January to make the relay a reality. She volunteered in part because her father and her brother died of lung cancer, she said. Frey, who works at the Glenwood center and lives in Lisbon, will set up during the day, then walk with her team at night. In the past, she has walked in the Hammond event, she said, "because that was the only one we had in Howard County."

Norma Styer, who lives in Woodbine, also has been walking in the Hammond event for several years, but likes the new relay because it is closer to her home. Styer, who has survived breast cancer, is leading a team of 22, who have raised more than $7,300, she said.

Styer, 70, plans to walk, but she did not know what time. "We have some slots in the middle of the night that are open," she said. "I'll be spending the night, and I'll walk whenever I'm needed."

Bernice Rutledge has put together a team of 40 people, who have raised more than $5,000. The team, called Bernice's Buddies, are walking in support of Rutledge, who is undergoing treatment for breast and bone cancer.

Rutledge beat breast cancer 12 years ago with a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, but the disease returned 3 1/2 years later. She has been fighting it ever since, she said. "I'll never be in remission, I don't think," she said.

Every Tuesday, she takes drugs that slow the spread of the disease but leave her groggy and tired. "Knock on wood, I'm still here, still doing well," she said. "I won't give up the fight."

Rutledge, who lives in Carroll County, has participated in the Relay for Life there, but this is her first in Howard County, she said. For the Howard County event, she is helping get the food and water together for the survivor dinner.

Rutledge, 49, will walk the first lap, which is reserved for survivors, and perhaps walk after that, but she does not know how long, she said. "I have 40 members on my team and so they'll take over and help me out, make sure someone is on the track all the time," she said.

"I feel very blessed to be here," she added. "Life doesn't offer any guarantees, you just take it and run with it."

Relay for Life

What: Western Howard Relay for Life.

Where: Western Regional Park, 14800 Carrs Mill Road, Woodbine.

When: Friday-Saturday, starting with a survivor's reception at 5 p.m. Friday.

Information: The American Cancer Society, 410-781-4316, or the event Web site, www.acsevents. org/relay/westernhoward.

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