Hundreds walk in Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research


June 09, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GUIDED BY the light of 3,500 candles, hundreds of people walked the track at Howard Community College from Friday night until noon Saturday.

The event was part of Relay for Life, a national program of local events organized by the American Cancer Society.

Relay for Life urges communities to come together to fight cancer. For the local event, 80 teams of eight to 15 people each registered to take turns running or walking the college track through the night and morning.

At least one representative from each team had to be on the track at all times.

Teams were asked to raise a minimum of $100 per team member in contributions. The money will go to support research, education and services for cancer patients through the American Cancer Society.

Anne Dunn, community specialist for the society's Howard County branch, said this year's relay raised more than $260,000.

"This really is a powerful event," Dunn said. "Cancer is a lonely disease, and this is an opportunity to meet and talk with others who have the disease. People see that they're not alone in this battle."

Michele Claycomb of Ellicott City and Sam Israel of Columbia co-chaired this year's relay.

Israel said teams come from business or corporations, high schools, neighborhoods and church organizations. Some individuals are invited to join a team by a cancer survivor or someone who lost a friend or family member to cancer.

Some of the teams had creative names like Millie's Angels, Team Terrapin, Kappa's for the Kure and Team Smile.

The Taste for Life team was organized by Marty Kappert Sr., his son, Martin Jr., daughter Dorothy Mickel and her husband, Dave Mickel, -- all of whom have been diagnosed with cancer.

This year, the family organized a wine-tasting party that raised more than $25,000 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

The Relay for Life is an important event for the family.

"When you band together for something positive like this, you feel you've been empowered," Marty Kappert Sr. said.

"It's a celebration of life, a chance to get cancer survivors to come out and see that they're not alone and see the community supporting them," Israel said.

The relay begins with a "Survivor's Lap."

More than 275 people who have been diagnosed with cancer completed the first lap around the Howard Community College track. Each wore a T-shirt that read, "I'm Winning" and a red sash.

Clara Barrett Powell was one of the survivors walking the first lap. The diminutive Oakland Mills resident was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago.

"There's such a sense of camaraderie," she said. "The thing about this relay, it's for all cancer survivors. It doesn't matter what kind of cancer you have and it doesn't matter where you are in life, your age, your culture or what stage of treatment you're in."

The youngest participant in the Survivor's Lap was a 16-month-old boy -- diagnosed with a rare form of cancer -- who began his lap walking but was carried most of the way by his parents.

"It's very moving to see people who are in treatment and have lost their hair," Powell said. "Some people have a difficult time making it around the track and are in wheelchairs."

Powell also participated in the relay in previous years, but this year's event was bittersweet for her.

Her husband, William Powell, died of cancer in February.

"It brings tears to your eyes when you see the sea of survivors and how proud they've become," she said. "We used to try to hide diseases, but I find the cancer survivors participating in this event are proud of their survivorship. This relay gives them a boost."

An estimated crowd of 3,000 ringed the track and applauded or shouted words of encouragement to survivors walking the first lap.

As they rounded the track, the survivors passed luminaries -- the 3,500 candles embedded in sand inside white paper bags placed around the track. Individuals or families could sponsor a luminary for $10 before the event.

Each bag bore the words, "In Memory of" or "In Honor of," and the names of cancer survivors or those who died of the disease.

A reception for survivors was held in a white tent, while the teams took over the track to begin their relays.

The track was ringed with tents -- some set up by organizations offering information on cancer, others offering snacks and beverages. Tents were erected for walkers to sleep in while other team members kept the relay going.

Placed near a curve on the grassy infield was a large white board about 8 feet high and 6 feet wide with the words "Wall of Memories" written at the top.

Anyone who had been affected by cancer was invited to write a message there. People gathered at the wall to take pictures or copy messages written about members of their families.

The struggles and heartache of families living through cancer came to life through their messages.

Children left heartfelt messages to their parents or teachers. One read:

"Mom -- I miss you and love you. We'll be together again. Love, Kelly."

Parents wrote to their children who had lost the battle. One of those read: "My Sweetheart, my sunshine -- God made frogs, slingshots and little boys. God made you especially for all the world to enjoy. I love you my son. Ten years was too brief. My love will shine for you throughout the galaxies."

"Cindy -- Wryly is now 8 years old, and you wouldn't believe what a beautiful little girl she is becoming," another message read. "I speak to her of you to keep your memory alive. Someday you'll get to be with her again. Miss you. -- Te Amo -- "

One message was written in Chinese characters and signed, simply, Shih-Chen.

Claycomb said preparations for the Relay for Life take a year.

"It takes so many volunteers to make an event this big a success," she said. She and Israel hope that more people will lend a hand next year.

If you would like more information on services offered by the American Cancer Society or to volunteer for Relay for Life, call 410-418-8753.

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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