Imagine a world with more birthdays.

That’s the theme and the goal of this year’s Relay For Life, the Amercian Cancer Society’s signature international fundraising event, marking its eighth year in Cleburne.

Cancer survivors, friends, family and volunteers gathered at the Cleburne Senior Citizen Center on Monday night to mark the beginning of the 2010 event, which will culminate with a June 4 relay at the Cleburne High School track from 6 p.m to 6 a.m., when teams will camp, walk or run to raise money and awareness for the Society.

Mary Ann Wheatley, publicity chairman, said there is a specific reason that Relay lasts 12 overnight hours.

“Because cancer never sleeps,” she said. “We are dedicating those 12 hours to cancer survivors and those lost to cancer.”

Relay began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Wash., ran and walked around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society, according to the society’s Web site.

Each year, more than 3.5 million people in communities in the United States and in 20 other countries, gather to take part.

Teams will start fundraising with each member raising a $100 minimum.

“That’s how they earn their white T-shirt,” Wheatley said.

At last night’s kickoff, Cleburne Mayor Ted Reynolds said the event is a testament to all Cleburne residents.

“Cleburne is a very giving community. With the help of all these groups, we will beat this terrible disease,” he said.

In 2009 Johnson County teams raised about $214,000.

Even with the sour economy, organizers believe they can reach this year’s goal of $225,000.

Wheatley said sponsors, corporate and individual, are also needed to underwrite the cost of the event.

Organizers said all money raised at Relay For Life goes toward cancer research, education, services and advocacy.

For information, call Brenda Opela, event chairman, at 817-517-4566; Verna Riddles, co-chairman, at 817-558-0583; or visit www.relayforlife.org.

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