Wednesday, September 30, 2015


I Relay for Nanny and Papa. But before I tell you my story, I want to acknowledge something: everyone has their own cancer story. Mine is neither better nor worse than anyone else’s, but it is my story. It is the reason I want to see cancer’s cure in my lifetime. It’s the reason I have become involved with Relay For Life at UVa, and it is what I come back to when I get stressed out or unmotivated doing my job with Relay. 

Cancer became real to me when I was in the 5th grade. My parents told me gently that my grandmother (Nanny) had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I didn’t know what cancer was, what an ovary was, or why my mom seemed so upset. Cancer became real though when I saw Nanny’s scars. When I saw her lift up her shirt a couple of days after her surgery, I was wholly unprepared for the sight of a scar running all the way up the length of her stomach. It wasn’t one of those “Oh, you’ll have a great story to tell about that scar” scars. It was a gash, held together by Frankenstein-esque staples. I didn’t know what to say, but at that moment, I began to understand just how real and vicious cancer is.

Cancer became even more real when I shaved my head. I, along with my brothers and cousins, got a buzz cut when Nanny started her chemotherapy. We couldn’t do much to help Nanny in her treatment, but we could try to let her know that we loved her, and shaving our heads as she lost her hair seemed to be the best way that we knew how to tell her . I discovered a little bit of what she must be feeling when I looked in the mirror after that buzz cut. It was horrible. I’ll never shave my head again if I can help it. But the thing is, cancer patients can’t help it. Cancer takes away that decisions of how you want to do your hair. In that moment, looking at my new haircut in the mirror, cancer’s effects became a little more real to me.

Cancer became even more real when Papa, my grandfather, was diagnosed with colon cancer. It seems like just a few days from the time he was diagnosed to the time he passed away, though it was actually a couple of weeks. Cancer was real, cancer was vicious, and cancer was painful as I told Papa how much I loved him in the hospital shortly before he died. I saw how real cancer had become to so many of Papa’s friends and our family at his visitation. It was hard for me to imagine how cancer could be so utterly devastating by taking someone who had meant so much to so many people.

Cancer has become even more real in the past two years at UVa. It has become real as I have met people and heard their stories. It has become real as I have taken classes from professors doing cancer research currently. It has become real as I walk around the track every year at Relay For Life seeing so many names on the Luminaria.

Cancer is real. Now, though, through my work with Relay For Life at UVa, I know that my effect on cancer is real. The money I raise has real effects. The money I raise goes to cancer research. The money I raise goes to give women wigs. The money I raise allows people to get rides to their treatments. The money I raise pays for lodging near treatment facilities for people who have to travel. The money I raise supports advocacy and support groups. The money I raise will one day fund real cures for all types of cancers.

Cancer is real, but so is our work to see its end. Join me and Relay For Life, so that we can live in a cancer free world. 

With RelayLOVE,

Greek Recruitment Co-Chair

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


On March 12, 2014, Shawn Kuykendall beat cancer. Hearing that, you probably picture a triumphant victory over cancer ending with a “happily ever after” and a gradual return to life before cancer. However, that is not the case. During his battle with cancer, Shawn once said, “Live or die, I win” and that is just what he did. Although Shawn eventually passed away, he did not lose his battle. He fought gallantly until the end, and while his outcome may not have been the ideal, it was a victory nonetheless.

Our culture has a way of talking about cancer as a battle. We see cancer patients and we watch them fight with everything they have against an evil disease that is eating away at their bodies. We watch them persevere through the treatment and the bad news. We celebrate every little milestone and ounce of good news with them. And then, when the end draws near, society waits to determine the outcome. Did the person win and beat cancer? Will they get their happily ever after and more years with their family and friends? Or, did the person lose? Did they succumb to cancer, leaving behind all of their loved ones? This is where our narrative is wrong. These cancer patients have spent countless days, months, and years battling cancer day in and day out, and we classify them as victorious simply by the outcome, life or death. If they lived, they won; and, if they died, they lost. We completely overlook every small victory along the way. Every round of chemo they made it through; every surgery; every time their doctors gave them good news. In an instant, all of that is forgotten and and the only thing we consider is did they live or did they die.

Changing this perception isn’t easy. We learn the language surrounding cancer when we first learn about cancer. For some, this doesn’t come until they are older and can truly understand what is happening; but for others, like me, cancer reaches back to some of your earliest memories and it’s hard to even remember a time when cancer wasn’t something you were aware of. When the first person you know finishes their battle with cancer, you hear it. If they survive, society champions them for beating cancer, beating the odds. If they pass away, you hear that “so-and-so” lost their battle to cancer. It isn’t easy to suddenly say that person won, they beat cancer, when you know that they are no longer living. It takes time. In the days leading up to Shawn’s passing, I really started to see the phrase, “Live or die, I win”, all over my social media. However, even after his death, I really struggled to see how this was a win. He was gone. He left behind his family and friends. He had so many people rooting for him, praying, and hoping he would miraculously get better. It wasn’t until last spring when I attended the screening of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, that I realized he did win. Shawn had the right mentality the entire time, knowing that no matter what happened he would win. It took me over a year and a two-hour long documentary featuring doctors, patients, and parents discussing the small victories they celebrate every day to finally understand what he had known all along.

Now, I know it won’t be easy to change our language surrounding cancer overnight, but we need to work on it. I’ve stopped saying that “so-and-so” lost their battle with cancer and I hope that one day, this phrase will only be a distant memory, that loss will no longer be associated with cancer. Hopefully, we will see a day where this is true, not because we have changed the perception regarding battles with cancer, but because we have found a cure and a cancer diagnosis no longer comes with fear of death. But in the meantime, while we hope and search for a cure, we need to remember that the victory is in the fight, not the outcome, and that every single person who battles cancer wins. Everyone is victorious in the end. Shawn won.

relay grandfather pic.jpeg
Thomas Hanley beat lung cancer on September 5, 2002.

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Shawn Kuykendall beat thymus cancer on March 12, 2014.

miller grandma.jpg
Lois Caldwell beat ovarian cancer nearly 10 years ago!

miller grandpa.jpg
Jerry Sisson beat colon cancer on December 19, 2008.

Candy Sweeney beats ovarian cancer every day!

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Melinda Apgar beats breast cancer every day!

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Victoria Antonowich beat breast cancer 3 times!

With RelayLOVE,

Fundraising Committee Co-Chair

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


cancer: (noun) can·cer \ˈkan(t)-sər\ a serious disease caused by cells that are not normal and that can spread to one or many parts of the body

Cancer is, quite literally, change. Cancerous cells are created from a body’s own cells with two distinct differences. These cells have mutated, or changed, genes. One, the oncogene, pushes the cell to divide much faster than normal. The other, the tumor suppressor gene, has been “turned off”, your body’s natural defense against tumors shut down. The cells may have one or both of these mutations, and they don’t all look the same or stay the same. Cancer cells are your own cells, changed.

But cancer creates change in other ways too. Lives and lifestyles are all changed by cancer – those of the patient, the caregivers, the family. Change is inevitable with this disease, as with most. Schedules must be conformed to treatments, family meals look different because of diet changes, and the dynamics of family interactions can change. Cancer is change, within and outside of the body.

Most of the time, when we think about cancer and change, it immediately brings forth feelings of dread: we see change associated with cancer as bad. Change means more cancer cells, it means more tumors, bad test results. It means its harder to catch, and harder to beat. Change can be unknown and scary. But what if we could create good change?

I often begin my cancer story with the same line: “My life changed forever in a Marriott in Georgetown”. Dramatic, maybe, but 100% true. I was sitting on the edge of the bed in our hotel room, while my parents sat me down to tell me the news that would change me forever as a daughter, a student, a volunteer, a friend, and a person. That was the day I found out, amidst a flurry of texts from friends who were storming the field at Scott Stadium after a down-to-the-wire win against Miami, that my mother had been diagnosed with late-stage Ovarian Cancer. At that point we thought it was Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma – but that changed too.

My mother underwent extensive chemotherapy, more than 5 hours per treatment, every three weeks, for 4 months, surgery to remove her many tumors, and more chemotherapy after that. A one-word text made April 25th, 2013 truly the perfect day. It read simply, “remission.”  That remission was the change we had been hoping for. It was the day it looked like my mother had won. That was also the day I finally caught my breath.

However, in August of 2013, my mother’s CA 125 – or Cancer Antigen 125, the blood marker that indicates when ovarian cancer cells, otherwise almost entirely undetectable until they are an even more dangerous tumor, are present in a woman’s blood, came back elevated. Upon testing, we found out that this was a bad change – a new tumor had begun to grow. My mother’s treatment began again on a new cocktail of drugs and our resolve got stronger.

Every chemo drug will cause an allergic reaction in less 10% of patients, and every patient usually has one drug that they are allergic to. My mother’s reaction, however, fell in the 1%. As I watched this so-called “miracle drug” tear apart my mother’s body, I watched her stubbornness grow stronger. It was working, sure. The tumor was shrinking. And my mother knew that. So she downplayed every single one of her symptoms – telling the oncologist that she wasn’t working hard enough to get rid of her own symptoms, and that she would have them gone before the next treatment. Her stubbornness paid off: she was told she no longer needed the toxic drug in her cocktail and returned to a much more manageable regime.

And for 6 months, that’s where we stayed. But then change took over again.

The night of my first meeting as a Relay Exec Chair, I spent my walk home on the phone with my mother. The undertones in her voice sounded weird, and I knew something was wrong. After remembering that she had had a CT scan the past Thursday, I put 2 and 2 together.

“What did they find, Mom?”

So we started again. They reintroduced Doxil into her cocktail, but my mom was prepared this time. But again, her reaction was in the 1%. So we made yet another change.

I Relay for more cakes that say this.
This journey has been full of changes. Lots of bad changes. Scary changes. Unsure changes. But what does good change look like?

It looks like the incredible people this terrible disease has brought into my life, namely the nurses who give my mom treatment week after week, who helped me finally realized that I was meant to be a Pediatric Oncology nurse. 

It looks like Relay For Life, an organization that has simultaneously consumed and changed my life for the better and given me another family to fight alongside. 

It looks like researching my own risk of finding an elevated CA 125, and though its much higher than the average person, knowing what to look for – knowing what that change looks like.

It looks like pouring sweat, blood, and tears into a cause we all care so deeply about.

It looks like seeing a cure for cancer in our lifetime.

Sitting in that Marriott in Georgetown, I knew my life had just changed forever, but I could never have known how or how much. My mom and I always joke that she’s the optimist and I’m the pessimist, but if there’s one thing that she has taught me through her incredible resolve, bravery, and gracious fight, its that “every cloud has a silver lining”. For all the changes in her life, she has found a silver lining to them all.

So I Relay for good change. For positive change. For the chance to be the generation who sees the end of cancer in our lifetime. I relay for everyone who Relays and helps finish the fight. I relay for caregivers, who make the fight a little bit easier. I relay for survivors, who fight every minute of every day. But most of all, I Relay for my mom, her incredible fight, and her immeasurable strength.

So here’s to you, Mom. I love you.

With RelayLOVE,

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Why do you Relay?

            I relay because I want to honor my cousin Cameron and the beautiful, though short, life he lived. He was an incredible young man, who inspired and continues to inspire me every day.  At the age of 13, while battling leukemia, he showed his incredible strength and spirit to everyone around him.  His positive outlook on life in the midst of his battle inspired not only me, but many of those around him. Cameron started his own blog while he was sick, and used his posts to inspire others.  IN one of his posts he wrote, "The best kind of inspiration is the kind that makes you want to save a life."  This is the statement that Cure4Cam works for.  I relay because I'm inspired by Cameron...I relay because I want to help find a cure...I relay because I want to save a life.  We continue to fight the battle against childhood cancer.  Although Cameron is not here, he lives on in all of us and inspires us to continue to work for a cure. He never stopped, and neither will we.

Who was Cameron?

            My cousin Cameron was a very active athlete, runner and swimmer who balanced this active side with strong academics and a love of technology.   He was an extremely creative, inventive, humorous person.  Above all else however, Cameron had an unwavering positive attitude that was infectious to anyone who met him.  At no time in his life did these qualities become even more noticeable then throughout his battle with cancer.  On 11-11-11, at the age 13, Cameron was diagnosed with leukemia.  Despite the devastation of his diagnosis, he never once gave up hope, and he continued to live his life as the amazing talented upbeat young man he always was through the difficult treatments he faced. It would have been easy for someone in his situation to just let the experience tear them apart and change them, but Cameron seemed to become more determined then ever to not only beat his cancer, but to teach others about the experience and inspire others to make a difference in the treatment of pediatric cancer.  Cameron created a blog of his own to share his story and inspires others ( It showed how wise he was beyond his years and inspired anyone young and old to make the most of their lives and look at every new opportunity as a challenge.  Sadly, after a difficult 7-month battle, in May of 2012 just after his 14th birthday, Cameron passed away.  While he is gone, his spirit truly lives on in so many. 

How I developed Cure4Cam and the “HOOS Swam 4 Cam" Campaign:

            Cameron was an avid athlete his entire life. He played all kinds of sports when he was young, but he was an exceptional cross country runner and swimmer. As The Cure4Cam Childhood Cancer Foundation got its start we really focused on building off Cameron’s talents and the communities surrounding them to gain support and build awareness. At home, in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, we started with several 5k runs and relay events. We then reached out to the very strong swimming communities surrounding Cameron and his family.  Since its development in late 2012, Cure4Cam has continued to grow throughout many states, and has raised much needed awareness and funding for research.  
To date, the organization has raised and donated over $360,000. When I started attending school here at UVA, I knew I wanted to bring Cure4Cam to our campus. I knew the best way to start that was through my network as a student-athlete.  The men’s and women’s swim teams are never really in off season, so running an actual event was not really an option especially early in the year and through the winter.  Instead, I designed a virtual event for our team. 
I had our team commit to a one-month initiative to raise awareness about childhood cancer, and to raise much needed money for childhood cancer research.  I called it “HOOS Swam 4 Cam”, and introduced my teammates to my cousin Cameron and his story.  This served to increase their support of the effort even more.  In order to connect our UVA swim team with Cameron and Cure4Cam, we pledged to swim 238 miles collectively a week, the distance from Cameron’s house (and the home of Cure4Cam) in Downingtown, PA to the AFC in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We successfully swam our committed total throughout the month of February, and proudly wore our “HOOS Swam 4 Cam” caps and t-shirts.  Through the efforts of my teammates, we raised $2600 for The Cure4Cam Childhood Cancer Foundation. 


How I made “HOOS Swam 4 Cam” a reality:

            The way “HOOS Swam 4 Cam” became a reality was two-fold.  First, I used the large supportive network I had in my teammates on the UVA swim teams.  I am blessed enough to have an amazing support system here.  I knew if I could connect them to Cameron’s story and introduce them to the amazing things he did and wrote about, they would be 100% supportive of the effort.   Once they read his story and his blogs they were inspired to help, and were all willing to do what they could to make “HOOS Swam 4 Cam” a reality.  Their connection to Cameron ensured an amazing effort from all of them.  Secondly, I knew I had to get the word out about the event and to not be shy about asking for peoples’ talents to help or for their donations to support us. Cure4Cam along with the talents of some of my teammates, constructed a flyer about our efforts, and through the team, we got the word out to seek support and donations.  
I had to learn not be shy in asking people for help and reminding my teammates to send it to family and friends.  I would advise anyone in a similar position to connect people to your story and personalize it, and to use the talents and resources of the people around you to help increase your success.  The more people are connected, the more support you will conjure up.

How to inspire others to take similar action 

            One of the most important ways to inspire others is to help them see they are capable of making a difference.  Cameron wrote about how important it was to use our own talents to make a difference.  Once people see their talents are needed and supportive they are more likely to take action.  Additionally, it is important to always show people how their efforts make/made a difference.  A lot of large prominent foundations do amazing things, but people are sometimes unsure of where their money goes and do not see an immediate impact from their efforts. It is always important to show and explain where money is going and what a big difference it is making.   Doing so helps to inspire others to not only get involved, but stay involved as well.

            Finally, I found it helpful to ensure others feel connected to the initiative or foundation. It was so important to introduce my UVA teammates to the Cure4Cam website and Cameron’s blog before we really got started with our projects. Helping people feel like Cameron was someone just like them made people want to give more of their time to Cure4Cam and give more of an effort. That connection to a cause is imperative to success.

Relay For Life would like to give a HUGE thanks to Shannon Rauth, a varsity Virginia swimmer, for sharing her amazing story and details about her successful campaign for Cure4Cam. 

Publicity Committee 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I don’t even know where to begin. The dreaded question, “Why do you Relay?” is more loaded than most people realize. I can neither bear simplifying my answer to just one family member, nor quantify the pain and fear cancer causes. I will try my best at listing a handful of reasons why I have spent my past four years at the University participating, fundraising, and publicizing for Relay For Life.

When I was seven, my aunt Sue (my mom’s sister) was diagnosed for the third time with cancer. She beat Hodgkins Lymphoma, Breast Cancer, and was now facing Lung Cancer. Unfortunately, she was in Florida and my parents were waiting for a school holiday or a better prognosis to visit her.  I remember the day I came home from school and my mom was there at an unusual hour. “Your aunt went up to the angels today”, she told us. It took a few minutes for that statement to register with my 7-year-old self, but it was one I would never forget. Some people may think that a child cannot understand pain and death, but I learned and felt its immense sadness at an early age. 

My sister and me at the bench dedicated to my Aunt Sue in Florida 
My mom’s other sister, Aunt Jean, fought Leukemia (which was allegedly caught just a few days before it would have killed her). I can’t say I remember her time at the hospital since I was pretty young, but I know she had one of the toughest battles. I do remember helping her pick out wigs for her newly bald head, helping her cope with the absence of her long auburn-colored hair.

Less than 10 years after my Aunt Susan passed away, it was my mom’s turn to fight this awful terror. Learning from family experience, my mom (Barb) was routine about getting check-ups, including mammograms. In June 2009, the doctors found a small tumor in her breast. She had surgery and radiation that summer. My mother – a single, full-time mother working over 40 hours a week for the government and taking care of two demanding teenage daughters – showed primary concern in others. Upon diagnosis, she immediately emailed her friends and family and urged them to be tested routinely. Early detection saves lives. She is truly my hero.  In comparison to many stories, my mom is lucky and we know it. But I want to see a day when catching cancer early and beating it isn’t lucky, but guaranteed. 

Me and my wonderful mom 
The beginning of this school year, my mother’s cousin, “Aunt Kathy”, lost her battle to esophageal cancer. She had already beaten breast cancer, the case eerily similar to my mom’s. This year, I am relaying in honor of her, my sports-loving, down to earth, never-missed-a-birthday, caring Aunt.

I wish the list could end with my mom’s side of the family, but it does not. My smart, kind Grandma Dottie beat breast cancer gracefully several years ago. On the other dark side of the coin, Grandpa Milt lost a long battle with pancreatic cancer during the fall of my second year at UVA. Seeing the 6’4” patriarch of the Addison clan fall to this disease (which is one of the most deadly) was terrifying.

Me and Grandpa Milt at my high school graduation party 
Saying goodbye to Grandpa Milt, Aunt Kathy, Aunt Sue, and other loved ones does not get easier. I have been beyond grateful for the support of my friends and family while going through these losses at school.

Now it is my turn to fight. I know the odds. My genetic background is not in my favor. I’m told most things I consume are carcinogens. I have had my share of radiation poisoning with dozens of X-Rays. I’ve heard the survival rates. I know the likelihood for reoccurrence. Yes, things are improving with the research of ACS and other organizations. But I can tell you that I am damn scared about my future.  

I relay for my entire family: those who have had cancer and won, those who have tragically lost, and those who face imminent uncertainty. I relay for my friends. I relay for my future. I relay for all of us.

Me in the Relay Morph Suit 
If you would like to help me reach my fundraising goal or join me in this fight on April 10th, click here.

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