By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 12, 2008 - Rows of illuminated paper bags glowed as servicemembers honored cancer victims and survivors with a moment of silence. "Cancer touches almost everybody in a certain way," said Army Staff Sgt. Kelly Greene, who organized the Hope Ceremony here Nov. 8.
During the ceremony, servicemembers decorated paper bags with the names of loved ones whose lives were either touched or taken by cancer. Instead of using candles, Greene passed around glow sticks of different colors, lighting up the stage and spelling out "hope" on the bleachers. People took pictures of the bags, shared stories and took the opportunity to support one another.
"You've got to give people hope. It's important to remember your loved ones and give others hope who have loved ones [suffering from cancer]," said Army Capt. Pamela Sanders, of Columbus, Ga., who attended the event to honor her mother, Catherine, who died of breast cancer.
"When she died, she said the Army would always take care of me, so this was very important for me to participate," said Sanders, a commercialization officer for the 11th Signal Brigade.
During the moment of silence, participants held glow sticks close their bodies, some with their eyes closed, some holding each other, almost all swaying in unison.
"It was really moving with the different colors, because normally it's just candles, but with the ChemLights it made it look even cooler," Greene said.
The next day, Greene organized an American Cancer Society Relay for Life walk, which brought 600 servicemembers together to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer. Greene's sister, Susan, an Army veteran of the Gulf War, was diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago. At the time, Greene was in seventh grade and watched as Susan endured chemotherapy and radiation and came through the battle as a survivor.
Susan began participating in events for the American Cancer Society as soon as she was in remission. For several years, the two sisters walked in relays in Charlotte, N.C., New York and Phoenix, which is where they live now. More than 4,800 relays take place each year across the United States.
Because of Greene's deployment with the 18th Airborne Corps, she couldn't participate this year. Originally, she was simply going to walk on the same day as her sister's relay in Phoenix, but then decided to do a little bit more. She met with Camp Victory officials, posted flyers and contacted the American Cancer Society, which sent her T-shirts for the walk and paper bags for the ceremony.
"I'm lucky that I still have her, and it's unfortunate that most of the people here have lost someone, and that's why they're here," Greene said. "So I'm fortunate enough to still have Susan in my life. And she would be honored that I did this just for her."
Already, the event has raised more than $5,400, which far surpassed Greene's original goal.
"I know the money that the Baghdad Relay raised will support research," she said. "My specific hope is that it will be the money that pushes the research to the edge of discovery -- the push that we need to pinpoint a specific cure. I want it to make a difference."
The difference she's made already, however, is evident in the calls and e-mails she's received from cancer survivors.
"They just wanted to tell me how much it meant to them that somebody else, who's not a fighter, would do something just for them," Greene said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)