By Sandra Coopersmith
Features Writer 

MY DAY AT RELAY

 

Survivors, including Sandra Coopersmith, run a victory lap.

If ever I need to remind myself that we are a compassionate, committed, and very connected species, all I have to do is participate in an American Cancer Society event such as the Baldwin Hills Relay for Life, as I did on Saturday, June 22nd at Yvonne B. Burke Athletic Field on Fairfax in Los Angeles, Los Angeles. I did laps proudly and very, very gratefully, sporting my blue Event Leadership T-shirt and purple-ribboned survivor medal. (November 11th will mark the 28th anniversary of my mastectomy.)

I've loved purple ever since I was a toddler and got to wear a purple velvet dress that was a highly prized gift from a family friend. We had little money and experienced many hardships, but I remember feeling powerful when I wore that dress, the same feeling evoked by the medal, T-shirt and my accompanying "uniform": a wide-brimmed hat festooned with ribbons bearing names of those in whose honor or memory I walk, as provided by my sponsors over the years, plus a mini sandwich board with portraits I did of two very dear friends who have passed.


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I'm passionate about Relay because it recognizes survivors, caregivers, and those no longer with us. It encourages us to fight back against this disease and support the American Cancer Society in its mission to free the world from cancer and, until then, to fund and conduct research, share expert information, support patients, and spread the word about prevention. A wealth of information is available at http://www.cancer.org and from information specialists at (800) 227-2345, a 24/7 line.

My day at Relay as a member of the Green Team was joyful, educational, inspirational and fun, with fabulous entertainment, talks, education and activities that kept the crowd continuously engaged. Breakfast (Dulan's on Crenshaw), lunch (Puerto Nuevo Restaurant and Benny's Tacos), dinner (Sorrento Italian Market), and the late night chili bar (Blue Shield) were happily devoured by all. My biggest challenge was to keep the ribbons on my hat from dipping into my breakfast and lunch, the two meals I got to enjoy as I was cold so left around 8 p.m. But I had a full day and managed to pack in 22 laps, which I believe equates to 5 ½ miles – not bad for a somewhat sedentary 80-year-old!

In between I chatted with several participants, including survivor Monique Givens, a Certified Medical Assistant and member of Team Humphrey, whose colorful tutu caught my eye. "My sister-in-law, whom I absolutely think of as my big sister, makes me a different tutu every year," she explained. "They're fun and celebratory." Between my hat and her tutu, we made quite a fashion statement.


"I always went for my mammograms," she continued, "and then in January 2016 I got that letter no one ever wants to get, that there's an abnormal reading. I then had a 3-D mammogram. I had two tumors in my left breast and two biopsies." Fortunately, Monique was Stage 1. That May she had a mastectomy. Being very large-breasted, she opted, following consultation, to have her right breast removed too, and now wears two prostheses.

Her message: "You have to remain positive. Early detection is key to your survival. The lesson I learned was to be very aware of my health, the impact of what I put into my body, and my lifestyle. Prayer and my family got me through."

I was happy to spot Sheree Devereaux, who was helping out at the Luminaria booth, and we walked a couple of laps together. I had met her when she attended an Event Leadership meeting for more information, as she had learned of our Relay through social media. One of the three items on her bucket list, which includes doing a silent retreat and writing a memoir, is to do a marathon, and when she searched the internet for possibilities, this Relay popped up.

She worked up until the last minute at Relay creating Luminaria bags, and described the Luminaria ceremony as "a touching and meaningful ceremony, as expected." Although she twisted her ankle during the evening when going to her car for a jacket, she was still able to walk, despite some pain.

Since her ankle was noticeably swollen after the ceremony, she wisely decided not to overdo it as she wanted to be in good shape for her yoga training in a couple of weeks. Sheree recently attended a silent retreat that "was wonderful. I walked the labyrinth, meditated, had vegan meals, did yoga, and out of that evolved a great opportunity to take yoga teacher training that's coming up."

Despite the mishap with her ankle, she "enjoyed the entire Relay experience. All in all, I helped to raise funds, honored lost loved ones and those still affected, shed a few tears, made new friends, and had fun rallying together in the fight against cancer. I pledged to participate again next year, maybe even on a committee. I will have much to share in my chapter of a book that's a compilation of inspiring stories. It's a project by a new Facebook friend who is a writer and publisher, and will be available in October. My chapter will be like a preface to the memoir that I'm working on. And a run/walk Relay marathon is still on my bucket list!"

Troy Green of the Event Leadership Team has been greatly involved in developing and growing this Relay for several years because of the loss of his wife, Kimberly. Additionally, his very engaged and committed aunt, Madeline Wilson, is a cancer survivor. Many of his friends and family members have been impacted by this disease, including his mother, Carol, a very active participant. She just had surgery for oral cancer and still showed up on Saturday.

I also chatted with John and Helen Singleton, Kimberly's parents. John felt this Relay was "a great accomplishment. We do the best we can to try to encourage people, and people come out and give great support. Long after our daughter's gone home, she's still loved and remembered with people doing this in her name."

Dana Wynkoop, Community Development Manager with the American Cancer Society and our staff partner, commented that she has "worked for many nonprofits, all with very vital and worthy missions, but working for the American Cancer Society gives me an opportunity to be a part of a mission that will benefit everyone no matter who they are or where they live. Not only does the American Cancer Society's innovative research bring us closer every day to finding a cure and save countless lives, but ACS also provides many services that those going through cancer treatment rely on. What is so special about ACS that makes me want to be a part of its mission is how everyone involved, from the staff to the volunteers, has made a touching and personal commitment to ending cancer."

That's for sure, because as I was writing this article Troy called to inform me that our Relay generated approximately $80,000 and money is still coming in! My tally was $4,855 and I cannot thank my wonderful donors enough for their support.

Go, Relay!

Monique Givens and Sandra Coopersmith

 

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