Belen’s Relay for Life


The moon peered its light through misty clouds onto Belen High School’s Trini Montiel Field on Friday evening.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: More than 100 Relay for Life of Valencia County participants join cancer survivors as they make a lap around the Ring of Hope during Friday’s event at Belen High School. Participants took part in events, such as a birthday cake contest, salsa contest and purse auction, to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

But as night fell, hundreds of residents on the baseball field didn’t fall asleep as the brisk wind wafted through their tents.

The 2012 Relay for Life of Valencia County participants stayed up for more than 16 hours walking around the Ring of Hope to raise $19,000 for the American Cancer Society, an organization dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, service, advocacy and education.

“The bottom line is cancer never sleeps, so for these 16 to 18 hours, we’re not going to sleep,” said event coordinator Mark Gwinn.

Five cancer survivors kicked off the event by making the trek around the baseball field while carrying an ACS banner stating research “saved lives in this community.”

“You can see it in their eyes — the fight — you can see it in their eyes that they’re trying to give back, but with so much love and faith,” Gwinn said. “It’s unbelievable to watch these people.”

The “Happy Birthday” rang through speakers as cancer survivors walked through the path lined with ACS informational posters and by colorful luminarias remembering those who had lost their battle with cancer.

Mary Merrell, a breast cancer survivor for more than three years, said the relay reminds her of how blessed she is to have survived.

“I think the work that’s done through research is so important that I don’t know if I would be talking to you today if (ACS) didn’t get money for (cancer) research,” Merrell said.

The co-founder of Ambercare in Belen, who is also a registered nurse, found what felt like a hard rubber ball, the size of an egg, in her left breast after waking up one morning in April 2008.

Merrell was treated for seven months in total with chemotherapy and radiation following a lumpectomy before being told she no longer had cancer.

Brandi Snelson, cervical uterine cancer survivor for three years, said this event lets survivors know they’re not alone and allows them to give back to others who are still fighting.

Participants from each of the 11 teams laced up their walking shoes, pushed their children in strollers or led their leashed dogs throughout the two-day event.

To raise funds, each team spearheaded a fundraising event spread throughout the field’s green grass and white bases. Events, such as a dunk tank, volleyball tournament, purse auction and birthday cake jumper, were scheduled throughout the night, along with a hot dog and s’mores roast.

Rosa Armijo-Pemble, with the Jazzercise team, said their Belen center has cancer survivors, but have also lost a few.

Sereena Kettle, also with the Jazzercise team, said there wasn’t one person on the team or in their center who hadn’t been affected by cancer in some way.

But the benefit of raising money for ACS is that the money filters back to Valencia County residents in need of cancer services, Armijo-Pemble said.

Everyone has their own reason for relaying, Gwinn said, but in the end, their united efforts bring the community together.

Gwinn relays for his wife, Carolyn K., who died four years ago from breast cancer.

“I relay because I want a cure. I don’t want to see my daughter or granddaughter go through what my wife went through,” he said.

Belen resident, Betty Carpenter, said the battle against cancer is a subject that’s “very dear to my heart,” since her 91-year-old mother is a colon cancer survivor.

“I just wish there was a cure,” Carpenter said.

Somebody never knows when doctors will inform them that they, or someone they love, has cancer, Merrell said.

And this is why participants walk in the relay each year, Gwinn said.

“We walk for all types of cancers. We don’t just focus on one. We focus on all,” he said.

(Go to the News-Bulletin’s Facebook page,, to watch a video about last weekend’s Relay for Life.)

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