Ashley Irl never thought the birthmark on her leg that she was born with was anything but just that. Now a senior majoring in finance and international business, Irl has come a long way since learning that the birthmark was cancerous.
“When I was in eighth grade it was raised and growing in size,” Irl said. “I got it checked out and my doctor was concerned,” she said about the growth that was eventually diagnosed as a cancerous topical melanoma.
“I was really lucky . it was completely topical,” Irl said, though she did need to have two surgeries before 10th grade.
One way Irl said she remains optimistic that a cure for cancer will eventually be discovered is by participating in Relay for Life – an all night walk-a-thon, sponsored by the American Cancer Society – to raise money for research and to lend support for those who have been touched by the disease.
This year Irl is the chair of the first GW-sponsored Relay for Life, which will take place at Smith Center on April 12 from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. There are 15 other students sitting on the committee – four of whom have been diagnosed with cancer.
“It’s an honor to be a part of that,” Irl said. “It’s great to see the support, to talk to other people who have been affected.”
More than 4,800 Relays for Life occur nationwide each year, according to the event’s Web site. Teams of eight to 15 members camp out in tents overnight and are required to keep one participant on the track at all times. The fundraiser began in 1986 and has grown in popularity since.
In years past, GW students interested in Relay for Life have had to participate in the one sponsored on the campus of American, but thanks to the leadership of Irl and others, GW will host its own Relay for Life for the first time.
Presidential Administrative Fellow Bianca Garcia was getting ready to go abroad her junior year when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 20.
“I had to get surgery a week and a half after I was diagnosed. They removed the whole thyroid and all the glands,” Garcia said. Though she underwent radiation and took a semester off of school, Garcia still needs to go to her doctor for checkups every three months.
Now a candidate for her master’s in international affairs, Garcia is the sponsorship chair for GW’s Relay for Life because she said the event provides an outlet to recognize cancer survivors and to commemorate those whose lives were changed forever.
“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I can’t waste it,” she said.
Similar to Garcia, sophomore Vlada Kalutski is also a survivor of thyroid cancer.
“I was diagnosed when I was a sophomore in high school, so it has been four years now,” said Kalutski, the recruitment chair for GW’s Relay for Life.
“Being on the committee and seeing the event come together was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, Kalutski said “It was important to me because it was my way of taking control of something that took me by surprise.”
Starting March 2, the Relay for Life committee will be going dorm to dorm throughout campus, holding bake sales and selling T-shirts, among many other efforts in order to raise money and get people to register for GW’s Relay for Life.
Senior Matt White, the survivorship chair for GW’s Relay for Life, said that the event is not just for people who have been diagnosed with cancer – it is also those who have had a relative with cancer or for people who simply have a desire to make a difference.
White said, “It’s a night that’s dedicated towards fighting back against a disease that affects the life of millions of millions of people directly, and that’s not just those who have cancer, those are the families and the children and the husbands and the wives whose spouse or mother or father has been diseased.”
White said that because so many people have been diagnosed with cancer, the disease has touched many lives and events like Relay for Life are so important.
He said, “We are there with them. It affects all of us.”