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Walking shoes all ready for Relay for Life

With candles glowing in paper bags, people will walk laps Friday around Memorial Stadium to honor cancer survivors and victims, and raise money for research and support those affected by the disease. Patty Sexton, co-chairwoman for Dallas County’s Relay for Life, said the event is critical to the continuing struggle to find a cure for the disease, which one in three people are diagnosed with during their lifetime.

“We’re just asking people to come out and walk for a cure,” Sexton said. “It’s an opportunity for people to by into fighting cancer.”

The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a survivors lap. The edge of the track will be lined with glowing paper bags scrawled with the names of cancer survivors and victims. People can buy candles, or luminaries, at the gate for $5, and they can also make donations as they enter the stadium. Sexton said the American Cancer Society acquires about 90 percent of its operation funds from the Relay for Life.

“These people are out there raising money,” she said. “It’s a great response.”

About 42 teams will walk in the Dallas County Relay for Life with the goal of raising more than $50,000. For one team, this year’s event will hold a little more meaning. Miles and her sisters walked in the relay for the past 12 years, since their mother was diagnosed with cancer. They called themselves Johnnie’s Girls, in honor of their mother. In January, one sister, Sherri Brown, died after battling cancer for more than 10 years. Not only did her death leave a hole in the family, it left a hole in the local cancer society. Brown was co-chairwoman of the Dallas County Relay for Life for the past several years.

“Someone had to step up,” Miles said.

So Miles and her sister, Veronica Brown, became co-chairwomen of the local Relay for Life. While it has not been easy, Miles said it has been rewarding in ways she never imagined.

“It’s taken two of us to do the job one person has done for many years,” she said. “This year, I feel like it’s going to be the biggest and best relay we’ve ever had.”

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life began in Tacoma, Wash. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Gordy Klatt wanted to provide more income to the local American Cancer Society. Klatt organized a marathon, which was watched by more than 300 of his friends, family and patients. Some donated $25 to walk or run with Klatt for 30 minutes. Circling that track, he raised more than $27,000.

“From that, it took off and became a national event,” Sexton said.

While Sherri Brown will not be there this year, directing volunteers and walking until her feet hurt, Sexton said it sure has felt like she never left. Sexton, Miles and Veronica Brown used Sherri Brown’s notes and plans for this year’s relay. Without them, Sexton said they would have been lost.

“It’s kind of like she’s operating the event from heaven,” she said.

“We’re trying to fill big shoes,” Veronica Brown added. “Fortunately, she left the recipe.”

Veronica Brown said she knows her sister, Sherri, will be walking circles around heaven Friday. But that does not mean it will not be difficult walking without her down on Earth, she said.

“I’m happy to be able to participate and continue the fight because this was so important to her,” Veronica Brown said of her sister. “But at the same time, I’ll have a heavy heart because she’s not there with us. I know she’ll be walking it up there.