At the Lincoln Memorial Friday night, Rachel Rosenblum stood amid the crowd of cancer survivors, some with bandanna-covered heads, some in wheelchairs. The GW senior had a pink ribbon pinned to her chest.
She had come to the candlelight vigil on the monument’s steps to gather information for her mother, who recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was caught early enough that she’ll be okay,” Rosenblum said.
A second-year GW law student, who asked not to be identified, attended Friday’s vigil to learn about the disease that took the lives of both his grandmothers. His father also recently was diagnosed with brain cancer.
“The diagnosis surprised us,” he said. “My dad was super healthy and exercises all the time.”
Many GW students joined crowds from across the nation this weekend to support the fight against cancer and to learn more about a disease of which many students say they know little.
The march, which urged Americans to come together to conquer cancer, was the first massive demonstration against cancer involving groups inside and outside the cancer-awareness community.
The events began Friday night at the Lincoln Memorial with a candlelight vigil that featured live performances and speeches, and ended with a march on the National Mall Saturday.
Friday, some marchers stood on their tiptoes, trying to catch a glimpse of the Eastern High School Choir and Rev. Jesse Jackson, and chanted that those affected by cancer should go from “Pain to Power.”
Others wept on the shoulders of friends as the names and faces of cancer victims were projected simultaneously on two screens flanking the stage. Lights glittered down the steps to the reflecting pool as marchers held pen-light candles distributed by members of the Young Marines.
Many GW students volunteered at the march. The College Republicans organized a group of more than 60 volunteers to work at events Friday and Saturday.
“Sixty percent of the volunteers are Republicans,” said College Republicans Vice Chair Brad Murphy. “Cancer is a nonpartisan issue. Being there made us think, `this can happen to anyone.’ It really hits home.”
Murphy said event organizers were surprised and delighted with the turnout of college volunteers.
“On Friday we were really behind the scenes,” Murphy said. “There weren’t many volunteers there, so we were able to meet Scott Hamilton and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.”
“I spoke to Scott Hamilton,” said freshman Jennifer Goodman, displaying the famous figure skater’s autograph on her green volunteer shirt. “I guess it’s one of the perks of being a volunteer.”
The March drew numerous volunteers Saturday as well. GW volunteers were concentrated at the Wall of Courage in the farthest area from the stage.
“At the beginning, the wall was just a white grid and by the end of the day it was covered with squares of pastel-colored notes people wrote their personal experiences on,” Murphy said.
“One of my friends back home is fighting leukemia,” said freshman volunteer Mariana Kessimian. “The raw emotions you get when you’re here and being a part of it are all so great.”
Another volunteer, Elizabeth Latwin, said she knows many people with cancer who stayed home Saturday. Latwin said she hopes more education about breast self-examinations, healthy diets and the dangers of smoking are on the horizon.
Sophomore Daven Dashi spent last summer working in a children’s cancer center in Houston, Texas, and wants to become a children’s oncologist.
“It was really hard doing rounds at the hospital,” Dashi said. “The patients have to keep their spirits high and that can be hard to do. Sometimes all it took was someone taking the time to talk to them to really turn their spirits around instead of having a doctor come in to say it’s time for chemotherapy.”
Sophomore Jenn Manger said too many people think they are immune to cancer and she advocated more education on the subject. Manger lost her sister and grandfather to cancer.
Speakers, including Vice President Al Gore, backed the idea of increased congressional funding for medical research. But some GW students, such as freshman Jaime Amir, said they are skeptical the money will be allocated soon because President Clinton may not have congressional support in the current political climate.
“Next year we’ll take the reigns again and will try to double the GW turnout we had,” Murphy said. “We’ll call on other student groups and the administration to get involved.”