Participants have been able to find solace and empathy as a result of taking part in planning the annual event.
After his sister died of breast cancer in 2001, it took Bob Sowell a while before he came to terms with her death and wanted to work with Relay For Life.
"I was mad because my sister passed, and a lot of other people were living," he remembers.
That has changed. Now Sowell and his wife, Robin, are active members of the Little Flowers team, sponsored by the Church of St. Therese in Gloucester. They have worked with the relay every year since 2003. This year, Sowell spent many hours selling raffle tickets for a Bose Wave radio. By mid-May, he had sold $500 worth.
Denise Canada is the Little Flowers team captain and publicity chairwoman for the Gloucester Relay For Life steering committee. She has family members who have faced cancer or are now dealing with the disease. Her father is a 14-year survivor; her sister died from it.
"Five years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia," she says. "The day of her diagnosis was the day of the relay. The doctors told my daughter they had a date with her a year from then to walk the survivors lap."
The opening lap of the annual all-night walk to raise money for cancer research is reserved for those who have won their battles with the disease.
Canada's daughter was 21 at the time of her diagnosis. The chronic leukemia was caught in the early stages, and her cancer went into remission after eight months. Because of "a great breakthrough," she didn't have to have traditional chemotherapy and takes a daily pill instead.
Her sister walked the survivors lap in 2005, but her breast cancer recurred, and last year, she was too weak to walk. She passed away in July at 50.
"If you've ever been around cancer survivors, you see the benefits they receive from the American Cancer Society," Canada says. That's why she believes so strongly in Relay For Life, she says, which does so much to finance cancer research.
Robin Sowell's father died from leukemia, though he lived for eight years after diagnosis. "I don't know any family not touched by (cancer)."
Gloucester's Relay For Life will be Friday at Gloucester High School. Opening remarks will be at 7 p.m., the victory lap will be at 8 and the luminaria ceremony will be at 9.
The ceremony gives everyone the opportunity to recognize or remember a loved one with lighted luminaria decorated with names of survivors or names of those who have lost the fight.
"It's very moving when they light all the bags," Robin Sowell says.
"You walk around the track and view each name," Canada says.
Bob Sowell is hoping for no rain this year. "We've had to move it inside the last three years," he recalls.
Canada says the barbecue dinner at the Ware River Yacht Club is the event's big fundraiser each year. Another big fundraiser for her team is making and delivering buns. Janet Leigh and Nardozzi Caterers sponsor that event.
"We take orders at the church and go in on a Saturday with Janet Leigh," Canada says. "We learn to make buns, then make and deliver them."
Last year's goal was $6,000. The team raised $11,600.
"We'll probably raise as much as last year," Canada predicts. The county goal is $140,000.
"It's a mix of emotions," she says. "You're happy you're making a difference. You're happy to see survivors that may have received better treatment, but last year was tough because my sister wasn't doing well. I took the survivors T-shirt to her, knowing she would never wear it.
"I think I'll always be involved in Relay in one capacity or another. As soon as you think you might back out, someone else you know is diagnosed." *