CORNELIUS – Last year’s Relay For Life was emotional for Cornelius/Huntersville Relay committee member Rondalynn Hawthorne. During the event, she learned a local woman with stage four cancer had died.

Annual Relay For Life events are all about uniting to raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society to prevent that.

Businesses, schools, civic groups, churches – and anyone whose life has been touched by cancer – are asked to join a team and take to the track May 2 at Bailey Road Park for the Huntersville/Cornelius Relay For Life.

For 12 hours, attendees will celebrate survivors, remember loved ones and raise money to fight back against the disease while walking and enjoying food, entertainment and activities. Each team is encouraged to have someone on the track throughout the event.

“It’s not a race,” co-chair Marilynn Celenza said. “The event brings the community together to raise funds to try and fight cancer.”

The largest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life is an international initiative, bringing in $400 million each year for cancer research and offering services to cancer patients and their loved ones free of charge.

“The little bit we are doing — $50,000 to $100,000 — is nothing compared to what is done across the country,” co-chair Colin Furcht said. “Those funds help the next generation. We don’t want to have to do Relay anymore.”

People can get involved by starting a team to fundraise before and during the event, having their business be a sponsor, donating money or simply attending May 2 and supporting the participants.

So far, 24 teams are signed up, though the goal is 50.

In the past the word “cancer” was taboo. Celenza remembers it called “the c-word.” But Relay puts it all out in the open – celebrating the triumphs through the survivors’ lap, which puts faces to the cause, and remembering the tragedies through the luminary walk, with luminaries in honor and memory of loved ones lighting the path.

Thanks to technological advancements the survival rate is higher, but cancer affects all ages, races and genders.

Celenza was hesitant initially when asked to organize the event.

“I was sent a text message of a picture of [my children’s] former babysitter. … She was bald. She has cancer and is the mother of three kids. That was the sign I needed to do this,” Celenza said.

For Furcht, his sign was closer to home.

“My wife, Lauren, was diagnosed with a sarcoma three and a half years ago and had surgery to remove the tumor. Then, 18 months later, they found another tumor in her lung. They removed it all and today she has a clean bill of health, so we are optimistic,” he said.

During a recent monthly team captain’s meeting, only one  person raised their hand as a returning member.

“It’s exciting,” Furcht said. “It sends the message that just because you haven’t done it, doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Want to help? The Huntersville/Cornelius Relay For Life is accepting teams and sponsors for this year’s event takes place from 7 p.m. May 2 to 7 a.m. May 3, at Bailey Road Park, 11536 Bailey Road, Cornelius. Details: