Following a decade-long departure to care for her ailing parents, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 60 president Evelina Krosel says she returned to the Relay for Life of Laurel over the weekend as the captain of a brand-new team to celebrate cancer survivors and remember those who lost their lives to cancer.
Krosel and the five members of the Post 60 Chicks raised nearly $1,700 for the American Cancer Society fundraiser, which celebrated its 18th year on June 10 at McCullough Field. The new group was among 28 teams to participate in the 12-hour event, including fellow Post 60 team Sherry's Soldiers.
Volunteer event chairwoman Darlene Breck said this year's Relay for Life schedule was shifted to daytime hours – noon to midnight rather than overnight – to increase participation. With 210 people registered, about 400 people showed up to support the cause. After opening ceremonies, Relay supporters kicked off the celebration with the survivor reception and lap, later featuring a balloon release and the popular luminaria ceremony. During the luminaria ceremony, teams light candles or glow sticks inside white paper bags with names and memories of those who've died from cancer.
Krosel, a supporter of the American Cancer Society, said she's seen the impacts of cancer on the lives of her family and companions at Post 60. Her son and daughter-in-law are cancer survivors, and her mother recently died after her cancer battle.
"A lot of us [at Post 60] have been touched by or currently are going through cancer," Krosel said. "We have quite a few members who have had lung cancer, breast cancer, brain cancer, thyroid cancer and colon cancer. By doing Relay, it benefits all cancers, not just one type."
Both the Post 60 Chicks and Sherry's Soldiers started fundraising for the event in March, exceeding their goals to each raise $1,000. Krosel led the way to establish the Post's first team and was then joined by her friend, Sherry Gallagher, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January.
Gallagher, the team captain of Sherry's Soldiers, said her husband, three sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren decided to start a family team for Relay and raised $1,600 in their first year. The Laurel resident was treated for a breast cancer diagnosis with chemotherapy every three weeks from February to May.
Gallagher's breast cancer diagnosis, HER2, means the cancer tumors have higher levels of protein, according to the American Cancer Society, causing the cancer to grow and spread faster than other forms of breast cancers.
"The initial shock was a lot. I had to have a lot of different tests," Gallagher said. "At first, we found the lump in the breast and I went for a mammogram. My husband was with me and we knew when we left [St. Agnes Hospital] that it was a solid mass."
Since her diagnosis, Gallagher said she's been unable to continue her work as a teacher at Langley Park McCormick Elementary School in Hyattsville because of the susceptibility to infections from the chemo. As she wraps up a few more tests, Gallagher said her doctors are preparing her for a double mastectomy followed by seven weeks of radiation and reconstructive surgery.
Her journey hasn't been easy, she said, but Relay for Life covered her with another blanket of support, surrounded by family and friends.
"I was walking around fine one day and then the next day, I wasn't. You never know when you're going to get that diagnosis," Gallagher said. "We have these great doctors, nurses and care providers who go above and beyond to try to make sure we're OK. That, for me, has been the best because you are on an emotional roller coaster when you're on chemo."
Relay unites the community to fight back against cancer, added Breck, who lost her mother to a cancerous brain tumor.
"Everybody you know knows somebody who's had cancer or is battling cancer," Breck said. "I really think that if we keep doing what we're doing that there will be a cure for cancer in our children's lifetime. It's just so important. We have to come together as a community to find a cure."
Krosel and Gallagher said this is the first time the Legion has had teams in Relay for Life, but support from the American Legion and Sons of the American Legion has ensured their return next year.
"You have to keep persevering and pushing, even on those days where you don't think you can," Gallagher said. "To me, Relay is hope. This is all volunteers. We're all just a bunch of people coming together to try and do what we can to support each other."