Nobody has to tell Jean Cornell what cancer can do to a family. It has ravaged hers. When this question came up at a Bible study — what would she want to be remembered for in her life — Cornell recalls answering: "That I helped in any way find a cure for cancer." How she does that is by being a longtime volunteer with Relay for Life of Champaign County, a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
CHAMPAIGN — Nobody has to tell Jean Cornell what cancer can do to a family.
It has ravaged hers.
Cornell, 70, of Champaign, lost her husband to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system; her mother to breast cancer; and a brother-in-law to colon cancer.
She has had breast cancer herself — and so have both her daughters, an aunt, a sister-in-law, her mother-in-law and her husband's grandmother, she says.
When this question came up at a Bible study — what would she want to be remembered for in her life — Cornell recalls answering: "That I helped in any way find a cure for cancer."
How she does that is by being a longtime volunteer with Relay for Life of Champaign County, a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
Money raised at Relay for Life, an overnight event, helps fund cancer research along with services provided by the cancer society.
The first Relay For Life in Champaign County, held in 1995, brought in $11,049, and all the annual Relay events in the county have together raised more than $3 million, says Jill Rannebarger, Champaign County Relay for Life chairwoman.
Champaign County's event will be held this year June 8-9 at Centennial High School, Champaign. So far, more than 80 teams are participating and have raised more than $60,000 toward the goal.
There's still time to sign up and get involved for this year, Rannebarger says.
Teams or individual participants can sign up even through the day of the relay and continue fundraising afterward, she says. Fundraising will continue for the relay through Aug. 31.
Participants raise money by collecting pledges or doing their own kinds of creative fundraising. Teams signing up can do fundraising at the event such as selling food or organizing games, Rannebarger says.
Volunteers for the event are also still needed, she says.
If you sign up to participate, do you walk all night? You don't have to, Rannebarger says.
The goal is to have one of your team members walking continuously on the track throughout the night, she says, but nobody keeps track.
"We want you to relay your way," Rannebarger says.
Many of those who come to the relay don't stay for the entire night, she says.
The last event scheduled for the evening is at 10 p.m., and there is a closing ceremony early the next morning.
Because the cancer society is marking its 100th year this month, Rannebarger says, there will be birthday cake at the relay, and participants are urged to bring party hats and noisemakers for a birthday lap around the track set for 8:15 p.m.
Cornell says she started helping with Relay for Life events in the mid-1990s. She also carries Cancer Society cards with her, so she can pass them out to people she meets with cancer, and she sees the relay as another opportunity to reach out.
"They get people together and make them realize how many survivors there are out there," she says.
Her daughter, Judy Cornell, 47, of Ogden, has been helping at Champaign County Relay for Life events for about 15 years and is chairing the accounting committee for this year's event.
Like her mother, Judy Cornell says she helps with the relay because cancer has affected so many loved ones.
"It just keeps exploding in my family," she says. "I just don't want anybody to have to deal with this."
And that's especially her two daughters, who are at higher risk for breast cancer because of their family history, she says.
Judy Cornell says her own breast cancer was found early through a routine mammogram — so early, in fact, that she wound up needing surgery but didn't need chemotherapy afterward.
"I'd encourage everybody to get involved with this," she says of the relay, "and definitely go for all your routine checkups."
In marking its 100th birthday, the American Cancer Society says it has contributed to a 20 percent decline in cancer deaths in the U.S. since the early 1990s.
Two out of three people diagnosed with the disease are now surviving for at least five years, the organization says.
What's coming up at Champaign County's Relay for Life 2013
When: June 8-9
Where: Centennial High School track, 913 S. Crescent Drive, C.
What: Fundraiser and awareness event for the American Cancer Society with family-friendly activities throughout the night, including dancing, bands, contests, games and teams at campsites doing fundraising.
4-8:30 p.m. Kids activities, including inflatables and games.
4-6 p.m.: Education activity for kids with chance to have "passports" stamped and learn about cancer.
6 p.m.: Opening ceremony, followed by Survivor Lap.
7:30 p.m.: 2003 Miss America Erika Harold and 2012 Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen Grace Khachaturian host Relay Princess and Relay Prince event.
8:45 p.m.: Eternal Flame awards.
9 p.m.: Luminaria Ceremony.
9:30 p.m.: Fight Back-Ponytail Drive. People will donate their hair on stage.
10 p.m.: Winners announced for Bras and Boxers for a Cure and Surfboard decoration competition.
5:30 a.m.: Closing ceremony with awards.
More information: http://bit.ly/10Akthl 
Source: American Cancer Society/Relay for Life of Champaign County