The Sole Train Relay team poses for a group picture.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Sole Train Relay team poses for a group picture. SUBMITTED PHOTO
When Mabel resident Sandra Benson started the Relay for Life team, "Sole Train," in 2007 - when the event was in Mabel - she never expected the event and the disease known as cancer would have had such a major impact in her life.

"I just thought it would be fun to have a team," she said of her first involvement in 2007.

Benson, the team captain, had her life turned around by cancer when her husband, Randy Benson, and sister, Arlene Suttlemyer, both died from cancer in 2012, only about two months apart from each other.

"Not only have I lost family to cancer, but I have a lot of friends who have 'walked the walk,' have made friends through this (cancer)," she added. "It's a very humbling experience...cancer has no boundaries. It doesn't care who it attaches (to) and just the pain and the hurt that it causes."

While the disease brings pain, Benson said the Mabel community and surrounding area has great support for those who are battling the disease and their families.

"We have such a support of community and benefits with money raised for cancer patients," she said.

What started out as a good cause in which to participate in 2007 has become a personal mission for Benson as she continues to be a Relay for Life team captain. She also organized "A Caregivers Love," with her friend, Cathy Newman, which raises funds for local cancer patients and their caregivers.

"Whether it's a gas card, dinners that we can provide, or a massage to take your mind off things from what is going on...," Benson explained.

Benson commented on the struggle of seeing the good in the midst of the suffering cancer brings. However, she said she has also found strength through the experience and hope through her faith.

"It is hard. It is hard to see how cancer totally takes your dignity - it takes a person's dignity that is fighting. But then it also gives some people strength," Benson added. "Every day I pray for courage, patience and strength - not only for myself but for the people that are fighting the battle."

Benson said she was "broken" after losing her husband and sister and truly understands when someone says they have a broken heart.

"Through that I've also been able to say 'thank you, God, for giving me Randy as long as you did. For giving Arlene to me to be my sister.' All of us are only here for a short period...this isn't our final home," she said.

While she looks forward to Relay for Life each year, Benson calls it a bittersweet experience.

"You are there to pay respect for the ones that have gone on, but you are also there to rejoice for the people that are still fighting - and for those who have won the battle or are in remission," Benson said. "Relay is part of the healing process."

She said she looks forward to getting together with so many people and to meet new people at each event.

This year, Sole Train has 22 participants including area friends and family, along with family and friends in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Louisiana. She explains the more distant team members are members of her family, her late sister's family and her late husband's family.

Sole Train's fundraisers this year include donating items for the live auction along with a basket she hopes will raise several hundred dollars. They are also selling candy bars throughout the year at four locations including First Southeast Bank of Harmony and Canton, the Canton Pub and Spring Grove Communications. Their fundraising goal this year is set at about $2,000.

Fillmore County's Relay for Life will be held at the Harmony Community Center on July 11 with the survivor's tea at 4 p.m.; the community supper starting at 5 p.m. and the formal activities beginning on the main stage at 6 p.m.