Relay for Life: To remember, to celebrate, to fight back

........................................................................................................................................................................................

It was a small but mighty cohort who turned out for the Belen Relay for Life, Saturday evening. As the event got underway with the survivors lap, only five women made the circuit around the Belen High School baseball field.

Among them was Julieann Benavidez, who just finished chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. She found a lump in her breast in late December during a monthly self exam. Her doctor sent her for a mammogram and then a biopsy was ordered.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Nicole Ortiz, a volunteer with the Belen Relay for Life, places luminarias around home plate at the Belen High School baseball field. The luminarias were lit in memory of those who have suffered through cancer.

On March 13, Benavidez got confirmation that the lump was indeed cancer.

“My first thought was, ‘I have kids. What am I going to do?’,” Benavidez recalls, tears rolling down her face. The other four survivors stand near her, offering moral support and firm hands on her shoulders. And these women aren’t just any four people. They are part of Benivadez’s “Walmart family.” All five women work at the Belen Walmart and are cancer survivors.

“If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend, my Walmart family and my kids, I don’t know how I would have done this,” she said.

Throughout her treatment, Benavidez continued working, drawing on the support of her work family.

This week Benavidez will go in for a follow-up visit, to see how well the 16 chemo treatments knocked back the cancer.

If it’s still present, then she will begin radiation treatments.

Now that the chemo is finished, Benavidez is hoping to see the return of her hair. Thanks to the chemicals, she lost the hair that used to hang down past her shoulders.

“That was the hardest part,” she says chuckling as she wipes away tears. She tugs self consciously at the bill of the black cap she wears. “It’s silly I know . . . .”

Benavidez, along with her fellow survivors and several other Walmart employees were one of the three teams on the field as the sun began to set and the event got underway. Organizers said they were expecting nine teams to walk that night.

Pam Wink, the volunteer coordinator for Ambercare, was part of the team that represented the company that night.

“Our owner, Mary Merrell, is a breast cancer survivor. So we’re here for her,” Wink said. “We do a lot of hospice for the elderly and the young suffering with cancer. It’s important to do this.”

Luz Collins, the team leader for the Wells Fargo Los Lunas team, said everyone on the team had either a family member or friend who had fought cancer.

“We’ve been doing these events for years,” Collins said. “This is just a great opportunity to give to our community.”

In the dusk, children with soccer balls and too much energy romped back and forth across the infield, as walkers circled the outer perimeter.

They walked to celebrate their survival and that of their friends and family.

They walked to remember those who lost the fight to cancer.

They walked to celebrate.

They walked to fight back.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.