If you have never attended a Relay For Life event ó or even if itís been a while since you did ó you need to find time in your schedule tonight. Youíll be glad you did.

You donít have to run. You donít even need to walk. And making a donation in some way is completely optional, but be prepared. Youíll be moved to do something after you spend 30 minutes or so watching whatís happening at Gordon Wood Stadium.

In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon and avid runner, began a 24-hour walk and run around a track at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. By the time he was finished, he had clocked 83 miles, raising $27,000 to support the American Cancer Society. The following year, 220 supporters on 19 teams joined Dr. Klatt in this overnight event, and the American Cancer Society Relay For Life was born.

It was about a decade later that the idea caught on in Brownwood, and how it has caught on. Hundreds of local citizens have embraced the Relay for Life and it seems to grow bigger every year.

According to the American Cancer Society, over the last two decades, Relay For Life has spread to more than 3,800 communities in the United States and eight foreign countries. What began as one manís statement in the fight against cancer has led to the development of a worldwide event to help banish cancer. It has also become the cancer societyís signature activity every year.

Thatís because it offers everyone in the community an opportunity to participate in the fight against cancer. Across the nation, teams of people camp out at a local park, high school or fairground, taking turns walking or running around a track or path. The event runs throughout the night.

Relay For Life is more of a community ďgroup hugĒ than an athletic contest, so anyone and everyone can participate. Teams come from businesses, clubs, families, friends, hospitals, churches, schools and service organizations. Members of those teams share a common purpose in their support of the American Cancer Societyís mission and the elimination of cancer as the major medical threat which it continues to be.

The people who participate in Relay For Life, as well as those who attend and support those walking and running, all have a great time. Itís an enjoyable social event, but with a very serious purpose. They celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer, and use that to inspire others to continue to fight. They remember loved ones lost to the disease. And they leave with the knowledge that they have done something positive to put an end to the disease.

As the Brownwood area has seen in recent years, it is more than just a one-night stand. Volunteers are busy over many months planning and preparing for this event. And the amount of contributions the Relay For Life generates is evidence of how well the community receives these requests for support and donations.

If there is a person in the United States who does not have a relative or friend whose life has not been touched by cancer, that person is indeed fortunateÖ and probably very unique.

Fortunately, many of those people who have faced that diagnosis are now long-term survivors, thanks to advances in modern medicine and treatments. Thanks to scientific research, many cancer cases which patients fight today would not have had the same happy ending if we had only the medicine of a decade ago, and certainly a generation ago.

The awareness, the support and the dollars raised by Relay For Life all make a major difference for cancer patients and survivors. And since that probably means they make a major difference for someone close to each of us, itís a campaign which merits of the enthusiastic support of the community.

If you only have one hour to can spare to attend this weekend, make that hour for 10 tonight. If you do, youíll understand why Relay For Life sponsors describe it as a life-changing event.

Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.deason@brownwoodbulletin.com.