By Sgt. Edwin Gray, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)April 12, 2011
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Many service members, civilians, males and females of all races are at risk for cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1.2 million new patients fight the disease each year.
Service members and civilians joined together for the Relay for Life at Holt Stadium March 26 to help raise awareness for the battle against cancer. The relay was a 24-hour walk that symbolized the life struggles and battles a person diagnosed with cancer may encounter.
The event was set up over a 24-hour period to signify various stages of a cancer patient's battle. For instance, as the sun sets, participants continue walking, as would a person who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
As the day gets darker, it represents the state of mind of a cancer patient as they feel like their life is coming to an end.
The main purpose of the walk was to build awareness of the disease.
Many service members said they enjoyed helping support the cause.
"It means a lot to me to be able to participate and its all for a good cause," said Maj. Andrea Viel, the officer-in-charge and branch chief of human resource operations with the 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Bolingbrook, Ill., native. "We are not raising money. We are giving our time to bring forth awareness. It seems like a big tailgate party, but it's 24 hours, so we got to try to keep people motivated throughout the night."
In today's society, cancer is known to be one of the leading causes of death. The chance of never knowing someone who has battled the disease is slim to none.
"Everybody that was a part of the organization of developing this Relay for Life has been touched in some way or manner by cancer," said Lt. Col. Betty Singleton, a deputy staff judge advocate and chief of administrative law with the 103rd ESC and a Queens, N.Y., native. "Each of us knew somebody who has died or know someone who has survived. A friend, a co-worker or a relative has fought cancer and as a result of that, we thought it was a very important cause, and we are very passionate about it."
Some walked with heavy hearts from their own experiences of loved ones losing the battle to cancer. Some walked joyfully for their victory in their personal battle against it. They all walked in hope of finding a cure and to honor those who have lost the battle.
"I love [the relay]," said Spc. Shemeka Cunningham, a container repair yard pre-inspector with the 289th Quartermaster Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd ESC and a Valley, Ala., native. "I had an aunt that died from lung cancer and also my battle [buddy] just went home 4 o'clock this morning on emergency leave due to her brother being at stage four of cancer. It is an honor to represent for my aunt and my battle [buddy] and her family during their hard time right now with cancer."
Although by the end of the relay almost all of the participants were exhausted, many of them took pride in their efforts.
"I feel like it's a privilege to be out here and help because cancer is one of, if not the worst, thing that kills us," said Spc.Cunningham, who helped keep participants motivated during the relay. "So when I walked that first lap, it took everything in me not to cry."
The National Panhandling Council hosted the relay. Their public-service mission is to take care of the community and spread awareness on various topics. Many said this event turned out to be just that and more.
"This idea just took feet and started running. We didn't believe that we would have had a turnout like we did," Lt. Col. Singleton said. "We are very appreciative for everyone, military and civilians, who came out and supported the cause."
As participants left the relay, most were exhausted and weak just as a cancer patient leaving their last treatment. In hopes to defeat cancer, hundreds supported the cause. Although no one can grasp the actual emotional or physical struggles of one diagnosed with cancer, most participants attempted to feel their pain by trying to walk a day in their shoes.