The war on cancer has claimed many lives, but for one group of seventh-graders, the lives lost have only added to their determination to help find a cure.

The war on cancer has claimed many lives, but for one group of seventh-graders, the lives lost have only added to their determination to help find a cure.

This is the second year for Relay For Life team Kids Fighting Cancer.

Last year on the day of the relay, one team member's mother suddenly lost her life to melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

In the face of their loss, the team is determined to raise $3,000 for the 18-hour relay on June 20-21.

"Kids Fighting Cancer has some really unfortunate stories with their group," said Kelly Cotton, Relay for Life event chairwoman. "We all have our reasons for joining the relay, but they're all for the same good cause."

McKaley's mom was diagnosed with skin cancer in August 2006. After a year she became "very ill, very quickly," McKaley said.

"I knew it was going on, but I didn't understand what was going on," she said. "I didn't know the words they were using.

"I didn't understand."

Last June, Mandy Dean, McKaley's mother, began having headaches so painful that McKaley called 911.

Dean was eventually sent to a specialist in Chicago.

On June 22, 12-year-old McKaley went to Cedar Point for a day of fun.

Her mother died that day.

"I didn't want to be there," McKaley said.

Team mother Sherrie Cunningham, also a therapist at Grove City Psychological Services, said McKaley's absence on the day of her mother's death was typical of children.

"Some kids want to remember their parents alive," Cunningham said. "That can be normal."

Several of McKaley's teammates have suffered a similar loss:

Dakota Miller's father died four years ago from pancreatic cancer

Christian Meister's grandfather is currently battling skin cancer

Erin Cunningham's father is a two-time survivor of Hodgkin's disease, a cancer that spreads from one lymph node group to another

"This helps me, seeing all these kids' support," said Erin's father, Craig Cunningham. "It just feels good."

He added that he and his family have been participating in the Relay for seven of the eight years it's been in Grove City.

Each year the event grows more and more, and he said he's glad to see his daughter and her friends getting involved.

"The Relay For Life and this group of kids having a team is just another example of what a great group they are for only being in seventh grade," Sherrie Cunningham said. "They have a special bond and a sense of caring about each other that you don't typically see."

As for the kids, they're "pumped up" to get on the track and start the relay and help reach the ultimate goal: "to raise enough for the cure for cancer," Dakota said.

But most importantly: "Stick in there and don't give up," he added.

"Yeah," McKaley said chiming in after Dakota. "Really don't give up."

ebrooks@thisweeknews.com