By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – Rows of illuminated paper bags glowed in a moment of silence as service members swayed back and forth in honor of cancer victims and survivors.
"Cancer touches almost everybody in a certain way," said Staff Sgt. Kelly Greene, who organized the Hope Ceremony at the Camp Victory Stage Nov. 8, 2008.
During the ceremony, service members 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 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, each person present held a glow stick close his or her body, some with their eyes close, some holding each other, almost all swaying in unison.
"It was really moving with the colors, the different colors, because normally it's just candles but with the ChemLights it made it look even cooler," Greene said. "It's amazing what I could do in Baghdad, Iraq."
The day after the luminary ceremony, Greene organized an American Cancer Society Relay For Life walk, which brought 600 service members together to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer.
"I was honored to even have had the opportunity to do this because ... it was just a simple little promise to my sister, when I hadn't [thought] 'I'm going to touch so many people.' And it's amazing," Greene said.
Greene's sister, Susan, was diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago while serving as a specialist in the U.S. Army and veteran of the Gulf War. At the time, Greene was in seventh grade and watched as Susan endured chemotherapy, 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. There are more than 4,800 relays that take place each year across the U.S., usually taking place on a track where team members take turns in walking during an entire 24-hour period.
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 the mayor cell staff, posted flyers and contacted the American Cancer Society, which sent her t-shirts for the walk and paper bags for the ceremony.
"I got a little choked up," Greene said of watching people hold the glow sticks in silence with all the colors illuminating the night. "If my sister could be here [to see this]. 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. 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 needed to pinpoint a specific cure. I want it to make a difference."
The difference she's made already, however, is from the number of people she's touched with this one event.
"I had phone calls and emails about how much it meant to them, and some people were survivors who would not let other people know, and not that they're embarrassed and not that they don't want to participate, but they're so concerned about their place in their fight. Those were the most touching because they didn't want to get [attention]. 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."
This work, Lights aglow in memory of cancer victims, celebration of survivors, by MSG Michel Sauret, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.