Cheryl Bliss appeared to choke back the tears Saturday as she placed the luminaria candle on the track at .
On the bag, penned in blue ink, was a short message from her friend, Shirley Kudulis who died of cancer in March.
“As you walk in honor of me know I am with you always,” the note read.
Kudulis was 54 when she died.
“She was my best friend,” Bliss said, quietly. “She was my son’s godmother.”
Bliss was hardly alone in her grief — and her hope —- as more than 400 others walked, raised money and celebrated life and hope in the Lake Zurich Area/Wauconda/Island Lake Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
Starting at 6 p.m. Saturday and wrapping up the next morning, local residents — individually and in 35 teams — walked the track to raise money in the fight against cancer.
Officials said that by 6 p.m. Saturday, walkers had raised more than $99,000 toward their goal of $135,000, thanks to pre-event fundraisers. Final figures were being tallied Sunday afternoon.
The blazing sun and temperatures in the 90s didn’t appear to deter walkers and their supporters, who set up a small tent city just outside the Lake Zurich football stadium.
As the evening went on and temperatures cooled. the crowd swelled; teenagers and youngsters tossed discs and flipped cartwheels on the infield.
“It's wonderful people can get together, and have a common goal to eradicate a disease that has changed so many lives,” said Chris Misiki of Lake Zurich, who lost both her son and her husband to cancer.
Petra Croneigh, event chairman, said a friend and her son put up ribbons at Lake Zurich retail centers promoting the event. More than 9,000 fliers were sent out with local pizza deliveries.
“I shopped all week and saw ribbons all over,” she said.
Honorary survivor Stacey Baylan, who was diagnosed with cancer in March, said in her opening remarks that fundraising was crucial to finding a cure.
“It’s important to raise money so we can have more birthdays,” she said.
The climax of the event came late Saturday night as luminaria candles honoring cancer victims were placed along the inside edge of the track and lit after stadium lights were turned off.
Walkers then did a silent lap around the track, in honor of those who died.