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In 1996, Betty Singletary participated in Brunswick County’s first-ever Relay for Life at West Brunswick High School, a year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in the midst of her treatments.
She was one of five survivors who participated.
Then-Brunswick Community College administrator Dianne Ledbetter helped organize the first event, and Singletary said after the first one, people started taking notice.
“That really started a lot of publicity,” Singletary recalled. “People just grabbed on to it and it evolved to what it is now.”
Singletary, a Shallotte resident, has been taking the survivors’ lap that begins each relay ever since that first event.
She’s one of several participants who have seen the local event come from that humble start to what it is today—a popular community event that, last May, drew between 350 and 400 participants and raised $384,000 for cancer research.
Every May, the Brunswick County Relay For Life begins on a Friday evening at West Brunswick High School and lasts through the next day.
Participants form teams and raise money for the American Cancer Society. On relay day, the teams “camp out” around the high school track. At least one person from every team is on the track for the 24-hour period.
The event also includes the survivors’ lap and a luminary ceremony at nightfall to honor those who have suffered from cancer.
“This year was the largest turnout we’ve had,” she said recently.
The retired educator said the best part about the relay experience is connecting with other cancer survivors.
“I love getting to know other survivors on a personal basis—learning what their lives are like and being friends,” Singletary said. “You have that bond, with everyone coming together.”
She said the event has also made people realize just how pervasive the disease is and allowed them to talk about it with others more easily.
“People began to realize that, even if they hadn’t personally been diagnosed, cancer had affected them in some way. …Before, people kept it to themselves. They’re much more open now.”
Now cancer-free, Singletary is continuing to participate in the relays as part of the team from Ocean View Baptist Church, where she is a member.
She said her faith and her church family have given her the strength to make it through the most difficult times in her life, and she wouldn’t think of skipping a relay.
Singletary and all others interested in being involved in the next Relay for Life will begin planning for the 2009 event at a relay kick-off meeting set for 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 6, in the meeting room at Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. in Supply.
Despite the ominous financial climate, Singletary remains optimistic more people will participate this year and raise more money to benefit cancer research.
“I’m hoping we’ll see up to 450 people participating this year and maybe raise more than $400,000,” she said.