BRADENTON BEACH -- For years, Rita Wonders didn't know much about Relay for Life -- the well-known community fundraising walk backed by the American Cancer Society. Still, the Bradenton resident would write a check to contribute to a friend's team.
Then, Wonders was struck with stage II ovarian cancer and, after going through six chemotherapy treatments over four and a half months, she decided to participate in her first Relay for Life in Bradenton's G.T. Bray Park.
Now 66, the cancer survivor is preparing for her second year as part of an organized team. Wonders will be among many at the Relay for Life of Anna Maria Island, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and runs through 6 a.m. Sunday.
During the overnight event, individuals and teams camp out at Coquina Beach and participate in activities such as a hula hoop contest and crazy hat/hair lap.
Participants keep at least one team member on the track at all times during the event, which has more than 100 people registered so far.
County commissioners John Chappie and Carol Whitmore will give a proclamation making May "Relay for Life Month."
Earlier this week, Wonders recalled her first Relay for Life on Anna Maria Island.
"It's special because it's a smaller number of participants," she said over the phone.
Relay for Life advocacy Chairwoman Nancy Ambrose, herself a cancer survivor, said the event involves "listening to stories of hope."
"There are so many inspiring stories. There's one gentleman that comes every year who is an absolute miracle," she said, adding she looks forward to seeing him.
The first lap is reserved for survivors only joined by caregivers for the second lap.
Wonders said her husband, Richard, was "the best caregiver."
"He did everything for me," she said. "I had people that would come over and sit with me when he'd leave the house for something ... your support group is very important."
Perhaps the most touching part of Relay for Life is the 9 p.m. Luminaria Ceremony, which features lighted bags with written messages in honor of those affected by cancer.
"Everybody walks around the lap in complete silence," said Ambrose. "I've had people tell me that they've never been to an event so moving."
For Wonders, Relay for Life is a chance to meet others like her.
"Relay is about celebrating the survivors," Wonders said. "Remembering those who are no longer with us -- and fighting for the cure."
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.