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Continuing the fight against cancer is vital

Continuing the fight against cancer is vital

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Some of the names I recognized; many I did not. All of them were important to someone.

I read the names as I walked around the perimeter of the “Virginia Unites Let’s Shine On – Drive-Through Luminaria Tribute.” The joint event with the Powhatan and Chesterfield Relay for Life communities was held on Sept. 18 at Westchester Commons as a close-out for the 2019-2020 season, which officially ended on Sept. 30.

The names I just spoke of were the ones I saw written on the luminaria bags on display for people to either drive or walk by and remember. They were the names of people who, at some point in their lives, fought cancer. Some of the luminaria bags were to honor survivors; others were to remember those we lost. All of them were important to someone.

Although I fully admit I have not been able to make it to every Powhatan Relay for Life event held since I began working for the Powhatan Today six years ago, it has always been a critical event for us to cover. As soon as I know the date, it goes on my calendar, and, some way or another, it gets covered by the newspaper.

When COVID-19 hit in the spring, the writing was on the wall pretty early that this year’s event, which was supposed to take place on May 2, was going to be canceled. In addition to all of the normal risks large-scale gatherings represented at the time, the number of people with compromised immune systems who normally attend the event each year is probably significant.

If it had happened, 2020 would have been the 25th anniversary of the event here in Powhatan, which is a significant milestone. When I think of all the hard work and dedication that took place in the 24 years preceding it and the months leading up to the 2020 event, I don’t think just in terms of bake sales they planned, wacky lap themes they created, or pretty posters they drew. I think about research they helped fund, the patients and their families they have assisted, the education they have spread, and the prevention methods they championed that probably saved countless lives.

When I think about that kind of hard work taking a hit – the American Cancer Society lost 90 percent of all Relay for Life walks in 2020 – the loss of being able to celebrate this milestone year hurts even more.

After having talked with the organizers of the event, I walked around to gather information for the story I wrote for the newspaper. But when the photographs and the interviews were done, I just walked and read the names. Some were lit up with glow sticks and others with little electric tea lights. Their soft glow had its own kind of beauty in the relatively dark part of Westchester Commons where the luminaria event was held.

It was a time for me to reflect on those men and women in my own life who have faced that trial. Some came through it and are still here today. Other people that I loved, admired, and respected greatly had their light snuffed out too soon by the horror that is cancer.

There seemed like so many bags with so many names, but, in the grand scheme of things, the light would probably be visible from space if we did a luminaria event for everyone in our nation who has fought cancer or been lost to cancer.

I delayed writing about this experience a week for two reasons. First, I voted early, and since that process is a time-sensitive, vital part of our democracy, I wanted to go ahead and talk about that experience.

Second, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which holds a special place in my heart for many reasons. In my family, we lost my grandmother to breast cancer many years ago and my great-grandmother survived breast and uterine cancers. It is scary to think about the potential risk to my mother and sisters.

It also is scary to think about my own risk as I get older. I will turn 39 in November, which begins the one-year countdown until the time it is recommended I start having annual breast cancer screenings with mammograms. From conversations with other women, I know this can be an uncomfortable, even painful experience. I don’t look forward to it, but I will do it anyway.

While Breast Cancer Awareness Month is personally important to me and so many people, it is not the only cancer that has taken or threatened so many of our loved ones. So I decided that in addition to recognizing it, I wanted to include many of the other awareness days, weeks, and months we recognize in this nation and to honor the lives of the people and the individual fights against cancer they represent.

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. February is National Gallbladder and Bile Duct Cancer Awareness Month and National Cancer Prevention Month. March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, Myeloma Awareness Month, and National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

April is National Cancer Control Month, National Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, and National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, Brain Tumor Awareness Month, National Cancer Research Month, and Melanoma and Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month.

June is Cancer Immunotherapy Awareness Month and contains National Cancer Survivors Day. July is UV Safety Awareness Month and Sarcoma Awareness Mont. August contains World Lung Cancer Day.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Liver Cancer Awareness Month. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, National Carcinoid Cancer Month, National Family Caregivers Month, National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and Stomach Cancer Awareness Month.

A new season for Relay for Life has begun, and as organizers and teams push forward on what will hopefully be an exemplary year in 2021, I hope the Powhatan community will continue to demonstrate its vital support.

Laura McFarland may be reached at

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