Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To Spread the Hope

I have always been told that I am the spitting image of my mother, not just in looks but also in our personalities. We are both passionate about the things we care about, are admittedly rather opinionated, and are religiously punctual about everything. However, there is one way that I know that my mother would never want us to be similar—her susceptibility to cancer. She is currently a two-time survivor of breast cancer and about six years out of her treatments
As a child, I always knew that my mom had cancer before I was born. It was just another thing I knew about her, like where she was born, that her favorite color is purple, and that she loves chocolate—it really had no depth at all to me. I guess maybe I was too young to understand; maybe my parents didn’t want me to know what it really meant. That all changed though the summer before I started seventh grade when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. I can still remember when my parents sat me down to tell me and I thought I was in trouble for who knows what. But all I wished for after they talked to me was that I had been in trouble instead of facing reality.
How are you supposed to react when the person who has taken care of you your entire life now needs to be taken care of, any you feel like there is nothing you can do to really help? I can remember coming home from school not wanting to see my mom, not because I didn’t love her and didn’t want to spend time with her, but because I couldn’t bear to see her so weak, so broken lying in bed after chemotherapy. I felt like school was my only escape from what was going on with my life at home, and when anyone would bring my mom’s condition up, I would immediately close myself off to them. I knew that they were just being considerate and show me that they cared, but I did not want to think about it, and the last thing I wanted was to be pitied. I just wanted to be a normal middle schooler.
Throughout the entire process, my parents would not stop telling my brother and I that my mom was going to be perfectly fine, but there were also times that, despite their very best efforts to keep it from us, I could see their fear too. I knew that they would never want me to know if things got very bad, so I just had to have hope that the doctors knew what they were doing. I guess that was probably one of the most difficult things for me. How was I supposed to trust these strangers with my mother’s life?
 This sense of helplessness is one of the main reasons why I became involved with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. My mother had started her own team the previous year and had encouraged me to start my own. I immediately felt the support from both friends and family who joined my team and donated to this cause, and from the committee itself. The members from the committee in my hometown still continue to be a great support for my family and I and have made me feel at home within their community. I have never felt so passionate about a cause because I know that this organization has helped so many. This year will be my seventh year as a team captain for this event and my first year participating at UVA and as a committee member.
I Relay to spread hope to families just like mine, because I personally know how it feels to see a loved one suffering. Nearly everyone has been touched by cancer in some way, and I believe that this disease has taken too much from too many. This past year, a family friend lost her battle against cancer after a considerably long battle. She had been fighting cancer since I met her daughter in elementary school. Throughout the entire process, their whole family faced her cancer with such admirable positivity. How was I supposed to react when I saw such a wonderful woman, wife, and mother lose her battle? I Relay because no daughter should lose her mother at such a young age. I Relay because it is the only way I know how to fight back against this disease. I Relay both in remembrance of the many lives that have been lost and in celebration of those who won their battle. I Relay because these people diagnosed with cancer are not just statistics, they are mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, wives, husbands, grandparents, best friends—they mean everything to someone. They matter.
I hope that through my participation in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, I am truly making a difference in the lives of others. While we may not be able to change someone's past, I think that we have the opportunity to change someone's future by raising both awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society. I Relay because after all that I have seen this disease take away from so many, I just can’t not do anything about it.
Team Engagement Committee

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Fight for My Mom

Just a little disclaimer before I begin, I love my mom. She rocks my socks 99% of the time as long as we are not fighting over her obsessive workout habits or who has to walk the dog. She also did manage my entire skating team which was 21 teenage girls so what you're about to read is the perspective of a needy 5th grade girl. Just wanted to make that clear before I rant about life as a middle child with a mom in the cancer profession.

Cancer took over my mom’s entire life (not to mention the lives of our entire family) – but unlike the way it affects a patient. It devoured her time like a hungry kid with a hamburger. It consumed her time, her thoughts, and most importantly, the attention she gave me. Was the “stupid” job cooler than cute little me? Little me thought of course there was no way.

Flashback to my mother-less 5th grade graduation, a memory I will never let her live down. Poor, neglected me came home and my mom was waiting there with Chinese food as if nothing was wrong. Yeah right, mom, you can't get off that easy. 5th grade graduation is a big deal whether you think so or not. Did she not love me or something? Was work more fun than seeing 300 kids walk on a stage? Nope, there's no way. Graduation is so fun...she definitely liked work more than me.

 I kept track of everything she missed from kindergarten until high school: the soccer games, the Hebrew school family events, the field trips, the mother-daughter Girl Scout activities. Where was she when I was in the emergency room over Christmas break? Working of course. What was so important that she couldn’t hang out with me? Look at these faces, how did she ever leave home?

I resented my mom’s “stupid” job for most of my childhood. Maybe I was being dramatic but it seemed pretty rational at the time. She obviously didn’t mind waking up in the middle of the night to go into the hospital. She obviously didn’t mind being home alone on Christmas taking care of patients.
One day I was rummaging through her phone like any normal, nosy child and found this picture:

Among the pictures of my dog, and then more of my other dog, and a couple hilarious selfies she had sent to me in the past year was this picture: three of the cutest ladies I had ever seen in matching Betty Boop suits. These patients were who my mom was ditching me for… no wonder. These women stopped at WalMart every year for five years on the way to come see my mom. They bought new matching outfits each time just to put a smile on her face. I had never seen this part of the job.

I had seen my mom upset from a patient passing; I had seen my mom passed out on the
couch with her favorite child (aka the dog) from a long day or midnight visit to the operating room. I had seen her constantly working extra hours on weekends "off." What I had failed to see for a long time was why. Why she worked twice as hard as any other parent I Knew; why she kept going back and trying her hardest just to face defeat and sadness; why she had missed my super important 5th grade graduation.
These strong women in their Betty Boop jumpsuits were the reason my mom’s alarm went off at 4 AM every morning (so she could work out and be at work by 7… I told you she was obsessive). These women with smiling faces were the reason my mom has stared cancer in the face every day for the past 25 years.
It took me a shamefully long time to realize that it was stupid of me to get upset with her over a missed soccer game (especially because I was horrible at soccer). She was helping people in a way that most others could not. She sacrificed her life, her sanity, her time, AND my graduation to treat a 28-year-old with a young daughter; to save the uterus of a woman that would give anything to have a baby; and to see three women in Betty Boop jumpsuits smiling even though they were in a hospital about to receive treatment.

She has attacked cancer with scalpel, robot, chemotherapy, and her mind a thousand times over. I relay for my mom and her super-ninja skills in and out of the operating room. She’s crazy and ~crazy passionate~ about fighting to find a cure. I guess she’s rubbed off on me a little.
Jessie Duska

Fundraising Committee


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In Celebration of You

Imagine yourself today. Imagine where you see yourself a year in the future.

Now imagine having all of your goals, hopes and dreams compromised by something completely out of your control. Imagine hearing the words “You have cancer.”

About three years ago, my family received a call explaining that my cousin Will had experienced a seizure during his workday. Will was a young adult and had no previous medical condition that would explain this event. He was just the type of young professional I aspire to be in future years.

We eventually found out that doctors had discovered multiple malignant tumors in Will’s brain. My cousin Will was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer that winter, altering his life and so many more in an instant.

I was always so impressed and inspired by Will. He spent six years living and working in Japan after college, proceeding to earn a JD and Masters of Law in International Law from Duke University and a subsequent Master’s of Law in Taxation from New York University. My family and I loved that he lived and worked in D.C., since all of our other extended family members maintained residence in cities further afield; Will was our special Washingtonian relative.

After his diagnosis, Will worked with some of the most advanced doctors at Johns Hopkins University and subsequently at UCLA. They did everything in their power to extend Will’s life as long as they possibly could. Will fought vigorously and without complaint, surrounded by support and prayers.

Will passed away in December of 2013, less than a year after his initial diagnosis.

I was 18 year old when Will died. I was 18 years old, and someone in my generation had passed away. It didn’t make logical sense. I couldn’t help but think that this could be me or one of my close friends in a decade or two, going through the exact same situation that Will so suddenly took on.

I Relay because after a situation in which I felt so helpless, I can have a serious impact on finding a cure for brain cancer in the future. There has been a 22% decrease in the cancer death rate in the last two decades, which translates to 1.5 million lives saved. Through Relay For Life at UVA, the American Cancer Society continuously funds new groundbreaking research that will continue to save lives.

The only thing I can think of that would be more difficult than experiencing such an abrupt and unfair loss as this is not doing anything to fix it. Although our family will always feel Will’s void, I can honor him by working towards a future without cancer. In the sea of crazy costumes and Vermonster Challenges, Concerts and 5Ks, Bar nights and Benefits, it’s easy to forget what Relay For Life if really about—making it possible for everyone to live our lives to the fullest.

I Relay in celebration of you, Will.


Publicity Co-Chair

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful for the HOOlidays!

Today we are thankful for our amazing executive committee and their family and friends! Whether you are healthy or fighting an illness, or know someone who is, be thankful for today and another day to spend with the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving from the Relay For Life Executive Committee at UVA!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Be A Quitter This Thanksgiving

Hi everyone! It’s lung cancer awareness month! As you all head home for Thanksgiving, take a second to learn about another November holiday I bet you didn’t know too much about.

This past Thursday (November 19th) was the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out - a day dedicated to encouraging people to quit smoking. The day was started by Arthur P Mullaney in Randolph, Massachusetts in 1970. He asked people to give up smoking for a day and donate the money they saved to a local school’s scholarship fund. Since then, the idea has grown into a nationwide event celebrated with rallies, parades, and quitting information.

Did you know?
- Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women and responsible for 28% of all cancer deaths in the US
- 1 in 5 US adults smoke cigarettes regularly.
- Compared to non-smokers, the risk of developing lung cancer is 23x higher in male smokers and 13x higher in female smokers.
- 1 in 3 cancer-related deaths is caused by smoking.

As you can see from these statistics, lung cancer is no joke. The good news is that quitting smoking does not have to be confined to just one day a year. The American Cancer Society offers a variety of resources to help people quit smoking including a guide to quitting and phone and web based support. Visit to learn more!

P.S. Thanksgiving is a great time to ask family members you don’t normally see for Relay donations. Everyone is in the giving spirit and will be more than willing to support your cause! Good luck and happy thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More Memories

Relay for Life has been a significant part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have years worth of memories of going to the event in Winchester with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. Initially, in remembrance and celebration of my grandfather, and - as the years went by - for so many other family members and friends that have been impacted by this terrible disease.
My "Grand Jerry" was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and lost his battle on April 25, 2003. Although his year-long battle was relatively short, the Grand Jerry with cancer was no different than the one I knew before. Shortly after his diagnosis, my parents told my siblings and me that he was very very sick, but I never fully grasped how ruthless and awful cancer was because he never let it dull his spirit. However, the day I heard my parents tell us that we could no longer sit on Grand Jerry's lap because he had become so weak was the first time it truly hit me what this disease was actually doing.

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The winter before he passed away, we got a huge snowfall that had us out of school for an entire week. I will never forget sledding at his house that week. Despite being at one of the toughest points in his battle, he stayed outside with my brother and me for hours, hauling us back up the hill in his John Deere gator after every thrilling ride down the hill in his backyard. (Part of the reason why I dislike sledding to this day because I never understood why people would want to go down the hill just to have to walk back up it?)

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My Grand Jerry was one of my favorite people to spend time with as a child, and the nickname given to him was no coincidence. He left my siblings, cousins and I with so many wonderful memories - homemade milkshakes at his house, day trips to Jammin' Gym, and rides on his "gator" around the yard. He made these lasting memories with us so that cancer would not win. To this day, I still cherish the limited, but grand memories I was able to make with him. Although it may seem he eventually lost his battle, in my mind he truly won it in by the way he made an impact on our family.

I Relay so that time with loved ones is not cut short by this terrible disease. I believe that we have the potential to see a cure for cancer in my lifetime, and so by Relaying I hope to do my part in making this a reality. I also Relay in loving memory of my Uncle Bob, in celebration of my Grandma, and for the many other people in my life who have been impacted by this disease.

My grandfather was truly an amazing man and is the primary reason why I Relay. I Relay so that time with friends and family is not cut short by cancer. I Relay for more birthdays, more holidays, and all-in-all more memories together with the ones we love.

With RelayLove,

Publicity Committee

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Shoutout: Maria Mencini

Hey Relay friends/family! Take a hot sec to check out this week's amazing shoutout: Maria! And just in time for the Trifecta challenge! Be sure to check out her Relay page for more information or to make a donation and to look at this for more information on the challenge (after all, HOO doesn't love beating the Hokies and Dukes in some friendly competition?!) 

Hometown: Ashburn, VA
Year/Major: 4th Year, Commerce
Position on Relay: Team Recruitment Co-Chair
Why I Relay: For Scott Vivian, my best friend's dad,and so no one has to have a wonderful life cut short by cancer.
Why I’m Excited For Relay: I love seeing everyone come together and have an awesome experience at the main event in April. This year we really want to get as many people there as possible! On that note, this Monday through Wednesday we are doing a "Trifecta" recruitment challenge with JMU and Tech to see who can get the most new people registered - so sign up this week and help us win!!
Did you know: I studied abroad at Oxford 
Favorite Flavor of Ice Cream: Strawberry

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mission Monday...No-Shave November

Hello Relay friends! Happy Monday! It's officially November which means I mustache you a question. How much do you know about No-Shave November? Many of us have heard of the phenomenon before and perhaps a few of you guys have participated before.

It all begin in 2009 with a small town in Illinois and the Hill family. After having lost their father to colon cancer in 2007, they decided to find a creative way to make a difference in the fight against cancer. The original mindset was to create a celebration of hair. Many cancer patients lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy, so the family decided that instead of shaving or cutting their hair, they would let it go and donate the money saved from razors or hair appointments to a cancer organization. The first few years, it was tremendously successful which inspired the family to continue the growth. They launched the online campaign and began pairing with major cancer fundraising organizations, like the American Cancer Society. 

Now, millions of people sign up to take part every year. While fundraising and donations are still a major goal of the organization, they also have also expanded the focus to include a discussion as to why people are suddenly embracing the mustaches and beards.  And this is when the discussion of cancer can really take off. It's about spreading the word about ways to prevent cancer. About new treatments that have been discover. About current break through research. And most importantly, about how we have all been personally affected by it - a way to create a support system within an entire community. Although it primarily focuses on men's health and testicular cancer, it donates proceeds to organizations including St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and American Cancer Society (to which they have donated over $1.4 million!)

So as the Hill family says, "We believe that together, anything is possible, and we'll get closer to eradicating cancer one whisker at a time!" So be brave, be bold, be hairy - and ask someone about their mustache! 

Happy No-Shave November!

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