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The annual fundraiser takes off at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds on Saturday morning, July 15.

FILE PHOTO - Last year's Relay For Life Survivors' Lap takes off at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. This year's event begins with a Survivors' Lap at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 15.This weekend, the Jefferson County Fairgrounds will will come alive with one of the biggest local fundraisers of the year — Relay For Life — dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.

From 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday, men, women and kids of all ages will walk the track at the fairgrounds in teams, to raise awareness of the disease, and most importantly to raise money for the American Cancer Society to fight it.

Most of the fundraising will have already taken place by the day of the event, as people gained pledges for laps taken. That leaves time at the actual event for lots of fun and games. There are always great custumes and contests at Relay For Life as many of the participants put in the full 24 hours and camp onsite.

But the reason for the event, raising money to fight cancer, is always at the forefront — and in the hearts and minds of the many participants.

Saturday begins with the Opening Ceremonies. That entails everyone who has been affected by cancer, whether diagnosed for 10 days or cancer-free for 10 years. They take the first lap.

At 10:30 a.m., the Survivors' Lap takes center stage. Survivors define courage and inspire those facing a cancer diagnosis. Their strength is honored with each step they take around the first lap. Anyone who has overcome cancer is encouraged to take in the lap.

A Caregivers Lap, honoring the many people who provide care and health services to those stricken with cancer, also takes place Saturday morning. The caregivers who take this lap are often accompanied by the individual they support. This year, the local Relay For Life is honoring Madras residents Robin and Marilee Gerke as "Survivor" honorees.

Another beautiful, emotional highlight of the Relay is the Saturday night Luminaria Ceremony. The night lights up with a yellow glow as luminaria bags are lit. Each bag represents a loved one lost to cancer, brings support to those affected by it and honors survivors. This powerful moment gives people the opportunity to grieve but also offers hope and comfort.

This year's "In Memory of" honoree is Frances Dickson.

After an emotional, exhaustive 24 hours, Relay For Life ends with the closing ceremonies at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Last year, the local Relay For Life raised more than $66,000. The local effort has evolved into one of the largest fundraisers of the year in the Madras area.

From a humble beginning, Relay For Life has grown to include 3 million volunteers. It has raised a combined $3 billion for the American Cancer Society. The funds go toward cancer research, but also to help pass laws, increase education and provide support for people and families stricken with cancer.

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