If her doctors’ diagnosis is correct, Saturday was Alexa Lee’s last Relay for Life.
The senior, diagnosed last year with inoperable tumors in both her kidneys, learned in December she has six months to live. Lee has captained a Relay for Life team for seven straight years, but this is her first time doing it as a cancer patient.
“I’m not a doctor. I can’t find the cure for cancer, I can’t do that,” Lee said about her involvement. “But I can walk and show support and show solidarity.”
A few hours into the night, after starting the event off as part of the survivor lap, Lee shared her story with roughly 1,000 attendees filling the Lerner Health and Wellness Center for GW’s fifth annual Relay for Life.
“To be honest, I feel weird calling myself a survivor here tonight when I am still part of
the fight,” Lee said to the packed gymnasium during the Luminaria Assembly. “But in the words of my favorite oncology nurse, ‘If you survive five minutes after hearing the words ‘you have cancer,’ you’re a survivor.’ ”
Cancer has always been a part of Lee’s life. As a child, she watched her dad beat skin cancer. In high school, when her best friend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she took him to chemotherapy sessions and helped him through the recovery process. She never thought he would have to return the favor.
Now, as president of the community service-focused fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, which raised nearly $7,000 for the event this year, Lee said her friends have helped her come to terms with her diagnosis.
One of the most difficult adjustments in her life, she said, was learning to ask for help.
“It’s really the little things that you pick up on – not always being able to make yourself dinner and not [being] able to walk to class,” she said.
In describing to the audience the support she’s received since her diagnosis, Lee pointed out where she finds love.
“Love, to me, is a roommate who sits with me on the couch watching trash TV as I’m recovering from a round of chemo,” she said. “Love is a friend who rushes himself to the hospital to get tested for a kidney transplant.”
This spring, Lee will complete her degree in human services against the wishes of her parents and doctors, who wanted her to be closer to home while undergoing chemotherapy.
“I prepared myself for what would be the biggest challenge of my life: being a cancer patient and a second semester college senior,” she said.
After Lee spoke, hundreds walked in silence around the track, which was lined with strings of lights. Sophomore Clara Troyer, a Relay for Life organizer, then announced that donations had reached $53,000 – just $7,000 short of this year’s goal.
“I think that the reason people participate is because everyone has been touched by cancer,” co-chair Lauren Clark said. “Whether it’s someone as close as your mom or dad or a sibling, or a distant relative or a friend.”
By the end of the event, the 55 teams raised more than $53,800, according to the event’s website. The GW Women’s Rugby team brought in the most money, at more than $7,000 – just a few hundred dollars ahead of Alpha Phi Omega.
Seven participants from six different teams each raised more than $1,000.