Marty Willenbring was diagnosed with colon cancer more than 20 years ago. He survived another bout and then two occurrences of urinary and kidney cancer. He wanted to claim his purple T-shirt and participate in the survivors' walk at the Relay for Life of South Washington County Friday and Saturday at East Ridge High School.

"It's important and it's also a way to escape the monotony," Marty said, a bit tired after completing two laps around the track.

Willenbring's wife, Kathy, said her husband is facing another surgery on his other kidney. Like the other times, they are hoping for a good result.

There are as many stories at the Relay about the effects of cancer on individuals, families and friends as there are people who participate.

The event, held at East Ridge's Raptor Stadium, brings people together from Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Newport, Grey Cloud Island Township and St. Paul Park, at least once a year, for south Washington County's largest two-day fundraiser.

Franklin Doncavage was a baby, and his younger brother, Lewis, was not yet born when their grandma, Carolyn Weiss, died from cancer in 1998. Weiss's family joins the Relay to honor her.

Thousands of luminaria, each with a personal dedication, line the track and stadium in memory of loved ones lost to cancer. They remind members of the 119 teams, who have at least one member walking the track all night, that their cause is worthy.

But there is also much to celebrate at the Relay.

Cancer survivors, wearing purple T-shirts with "survivor" written on the back, walk the track for the first lap before team members join in. Some are new to the Relay and others are veterans. "How many years?" they ask each other.