By Cody Worsham
Kimberly Ulasiewicz is healing, because her father could not.
Cancer robbed Ulasiewicz of her dad, Mark, who passed in May 2013, just months before she would enroll in LSU law school.
“He was my favorite person in the entire world,” she says.
Like many who lose a loved one to cancer, Ulasiewicz kept her grief contained, unsure of how to handle it – even when she became aware of the law school’s involvement with Relay for Life, a fundraiser benefitting the American Cancer Society.
“I forced myself to be very reserved on the whole subject,” she says. “I avoided getting involved in Relay for Life for a while, mainly because I didn’t want the constant cancer reminder.”
All the while, the cancer that had already taken her father’s life began taking its toll on her.
“I was privately drowning in my own grief,” she said. “I don’t think anyone really knew.”
Lauren Bradberry did – or, she understood, at least. Bradberry began working with Relay for Life during undergrad at Virginia Tech as a sophomore.
“I thought it was a neat organization with an incredible mission,” she said. “At the time I didn’t know that cancer would affect my life so drastically.
Her father, too, was diagnosed with cancer, in October 2012, after she had already begun work with Relay. She soon joined the executive board for the event at Virginia Tech, and when law school brought her to Baton Rouge, she continued fighting.
Her father, Eric, passed a year and a half later – a week after last year’s Relay – and the timing struck Ulasiewicz, who happened to stumble across her law school classmate’s Relay for Life page.
“I realized she lost her dad to cancer a month before me,” Ulasiewicz says. “That was nuts to me.
“It just goes to show you how often these tragedies happen and how many lives cancer steals.”
Ulasiewicz felt “inspired by her strength” and reached out to Bradberry about getting involved – and neither has looked back since.
This year’s Relay is set for Friday, April 4 at 6 p.m. at the Parker Coliseum, and together, the two have raised more than $5,000 of LSU Relay for Life’s $18,591 total for 2014. Thirty-nine teams and 365 participants have received donations from friends, family, and even strangers, by sharing their stories – and putting in serious hours.
“Organizing an event that has full campus reach and community reach is a daunting task,” said Bradberry, who serves as the Mission Chair and helps with recruitment. “We expect hundreds at our event. Not only are we coordinating live music, dancing, food, games, but we are doing it almost completely on donations. I am blown away by the generosity of our LSU community.”
Bradberry says generating awareness is the biggest battle for Relay at LSU, but it’s also the most rewarding. Recently, the group set up a table on campus with flyers reading “If cancer didn’t exist…” and asked students to finish the sentence.
The responses were overwhelming.
“It was a reminder that cancer effects everyone,” Bradberry says.
Those who want to donate to the event can visit www.RelayForLife.org/LSU, where the schedule of events is also posted. There will be walks for survivors, caregivers, and a late night luminaria ceremony to remember those lost – and heal those left behind.
“I know there’s a daughter out there who is currently hoping for one more day with her dad,” says Ulasiewicz. “Treatment matters. It gave me that extra year and a half. So I’m comforted in knowing that I may be able to help give someone else that extra time.
“I want to give someone more birthdays. Helping someone else helps me heal.”