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At 42 years old, Laura Kowalski was told she had stage 4 cervical cancer. She wasn’t expected to live.
After an intensive treatment plan that included a three-month trip to California for surgery and radiation and chemotherapy, Kowalski is now 17 years cancer-free. The Highlands Ranch resident was able to see milestones that she once worried she would miss. She was present at all three of her kids’ high school graduations and two of their college graduations. She saw her daughter get married.
To celebrate another year of good health, Kowalski, now 59, will attend Relay for Life of South Metro Denver on July 22 from 3 to 11 p.m. at Shea Stadium, 3270 Redstone Park Circle, Highlands Ranch. She has participated in or helped plan the yearly event in Highlands Ranch and other locations around the Denver metro area since her diagnosis.
“For me, going to relay is like a big event, like a birthday or a celebration, because it’s another year,” Kowalski said. “I made it through another year.”
The annual event, hosted by American Cancer Society, honors survivors and loved ones lost to cancer and raises money for cancer research. Last year brought in $65,000 and this year’s goal is $80,000, according to Lindsay Phelan, community development manager of American Cancer Society, also Kowalski’s daughter.
Phelan was a freshman in high school when her mom was diagnosed with cancer. She viewed Relay for Life as a way for the community to fight back.
“My mom would not be here today had the American Cancer Society not done research,” said Phelan.
During Relay for Life, team members take turns walking around a track or designated path. Each event is six to 24 hours long and each team is asked to have a member on the track at all times to signify that cancer never sleeps, says American Cancer Society’s website. The day closes with a luminaria ceremony where small paper bags honoring loved ones lost are released into the sky.
The event has a festival atmosphere with family-friendly games, an obstacle course and a bounce house. This year’s Star Wars theme is “May the Cure Be With You.”
But, Phelan said: “Still, at the heart of it, we are walking and honoring those survivors and remembering loved ones.”
Another one of those survivors is Jennifer Walker, who at 32 years old was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. The Littleton native had been attending relays since high school, when her best friend died from colon cancer at 17 years old.
When Walker’s cancer was in remission, she joined a Relay for Life committee and helped in the planning process. She now attends the Highlands Ranch event with her family.
“The relay puts a positive light on what is such a negative thing in someone’s life,” said Walker, 46. “As a survivor myself, it felt really good to get the recognition that I fought this fight.”
To sign up for Relay for Life South Metro Denver, visit main.acsevents.org/site/TR?pg=entry&fr_id=80374.
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