Not a day goes by that Amy Feagin doesn’t think about her “Paw Paw,” who fought the valiant fight but succumbed to lung cancer in 1998.

“The loss is real, and the path is a difficult one,” she says. “When a loved one passes, it affects everyone in the family, their friends and their circle of influence. The pain doesn’t just go away.”

Mary Martha Stewart, Senior Vice President of McKinney-based Independent Bank, thinks daily of her father. He lost his battle with cancer three years ago.

“My mom is a three-time cancer survivor, so I am thankful she is here with me, but so many others in my life have been battling cancer," Stewart says. "I just want to make sure my daughter doesn’t experience this same grief and pain. I want to do everything I can to help contribute to a cure for cancer.”

This year, Stewart and Feagin, along with thousands of other volunteers, cancer survivors, caregivers and supporters, are putting their words into action by leading the charge for McKinney’s 2012 Relay For Life.

Designed as an overnight fundraising walking event, Relay For Life will be held Friday, April 27 to Saturday, April 28 at the Ballfields at Craig Ranch in McKinney to benefit the American Cancer Society.

McKinney’s event is the largest Relay For Life undertaking in this area and the second largest in the state. The 12-hour event will begin at 7 p.m. and end at 7 a.m., rain or shine, allowing participants the opportunity to celebrate cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost, and to fight back against the ravages of this terrible disease.

Feagin is one of three chairwomen for this year’s McKinney event. She explains that the entire event is meant to symbolize a cancer patient’s journey.

“The light and darkness of the day and night parallel the physical effects, emotions, and mental state of a cancer patient,” she says. “It begins with the Survivor Lap, which is an inspirational time for survivors to circle the track together and celebrate the victories they’ve achieved. We will have fun activities for people of all ages, including sand volleyball, bounce houses, music, and ‘Minute To Win It’ games. We will also hold the Luminaria Ceremony, honoring those who have been touched by cancer and remembering loved ones lost.”

After pausing a moment, she continues, “Candles are lit inside bags filled with sand, each one bearing the name of someone touched by cancer. It’s incredibly moving. Throughout the night and way past sunrise, the track is never empty.”

Relay For Life proves that one person can make a difference. Its founder, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington, ran around a track for 24 hours in an effort to demonstrate what someone suffering from cancer endures.

He completed more than 83 miles as nearly 300 friends, family and patients watched. He raised $27,000 to fight the disease, and months later, Klatt and a committee of supporters planned a team-based relay event, combining the strength of friends and family members to raise both awareness and funds in the fight against cancer.

Since then, the concept has spread across the country, and during the past 26 years, the American Cancer Society and staff have made Relay For Life the largest not-for-profit activity in the world, with over 4 million expected to participate in 2012. All money raised is given to the American Cancer Society to support their research, outreach programs, education, and community services with the hope of finding a cure for cancer once and for all.

Beth Darling fully understands the impact of cancer, after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002. She immediately had surgery and was told the cancer was gone. When it recurred in 2003, she was told that one treatment was available: a very new and untested prescription drug.

“I left MD Anderson with a huge question mark and not much hope. Since then, I’ve been on this medication the entire nine years, and I am both thankful and hopeful,” she says.

Because of the money provided through the Relay For Life event, the American Cancer Society is able to invest in cancer research and development, exploring new drug therapies and creating life-saving drugs. “Along with thousands of others, I am able to continue to live and have hope for my future,” she says.

When Darling was first diagnosed, someone suggested she become involved in Relay For Life. “I wasn’t ready. It took me a few years to even look at the word ‘cancer’ but finally I realized I needed to give back and help,” she explains.

Darling has co-chaired the sponsorship/underwriting committee for the past four years, raising money from local companies for McKinney’s Relay For Life with the hope that others will also receive new and better treatment options.

Feagin says that McKinney’s Relay For Life executive committee has worked tirelessly to energize the community. In 2011, they grossed $500,000 in sponsorships and donations. This year, with just over 150 relay teams, they hope to raise $525,000.

“Each and every person counts to help the cause. We are always accepting new teams and new sponsorships,” she says with a smile. “I have been amazed to see the people, the effort and the overall community spirit. We have the most amazing sponsors, and truly, they benefit from more than just the exposure and marketing. The teamwork and camaraderie built within companies, dedicating themselves to such a worthy effort – it’s truly a priceless byproduct.”

Stewart agrees. “The entire event rallies this community together and speaks to the type of people living in McKinney,” she says. “There is not better place to live. Relay For Life gives people hope and makes a difference in how we can eradicate cancer once and for all. Seeing the hope in other’s faces is the biggest reward of all.”

For questions and patient support services, please visit McKinney’s Relay For Life webpage at The American Cancer Society is available for questions at 1-800-227-2345 or 1-800-ACS-2345.

About the author: Carolyn Cameron is a local marketer and freelance writer. She enjoys spending time with her three young boys and family, reading and running.