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Cancer Survivor to Fulfill 'The Thomas Promise'

It would be much easier for Vienna resident Stacy Capra to stay quiet about her fight with cancer.

"It would be much easier to walk away," Capra said. "It’s much harder to keep talking about it. It’s hard on my family. Sometimes we just need a break, we need to get back to who we were before cancer touched our lives."

But Capra, a breast canc"The good thing aboutking away anytime soon. She regularly speaks at local high schools, and at cancer fundraising events throughout the area. She will be teaching Madison High School students how to check themselves for breast cancer. She is working with the American Cancer Society to develop a support program for recently diagnosed cancer victims.

But Capra’s biggest undertaking is The Thomas Promise, named after her father, James Lloyd Thomas. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in September 2000, just five months before Capra’s diagnosis. After undergoing some experimental treatments Thomas died a year later, on Sept. 3, 2001. Now, to honor her father, Capra is trying to raise $100,000 for the American Cancer Society.

"WHEN HE WAS first diagnosed, the first thing he asked the doctor was ... ," Capra paused for a moment, tears welling up in her eyes. "He said, ‘What about my kids?’ He wanted to know if it would affect us. He wasn’t even thinking about himself."

Capra said her father, throughout his life, put family before everything else. He was fun-loving. A fan of Elvis Presley, he was known to dress up like the King on occasion, his costume complete with a white jumpsuit, gold stitching and dark sunglasses. When her father died Capra’s brother, Jim Thomas, tried to remember some of the words of advice James Lloyd Thomas left behind. But the son had trouble finding any particular set of teachings.

"It wasn’t the things he said. It was how he lived his life," Capra said. "For example, my father worked for the government, and so did everyone in Vienna. So everyone always had government pens laying around the house. We didn’t. He was always above reproach. He was so completely honest in everything he did."

He was also hesitant to talk about his struggle with cancer. Even though they were both fighting the disease simultaneously, Capra and her father rarely discussed their difficulties.

"We didn’t talk about how to live with cancer," She said. "That was one way he taught me. You continue living your life. It’s like, yes, you have cancer, but that’s just a part of your life. It’s not who you are."

A FULL-TIME MOTHER, Capra is raising two young boys (second grader Joe and kindergartner Jack), carting them back and forth to soccer, baseball, karate and school. But in her spare time she has been recruiting participants for a series of local Relay for Life fund-raisers. At Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society event, teams of between eight and 15 people camp out around high school tracks around the country. Each team keeps at least one member walking around the track for two days straight. To get a chance to participate in the event, though, teams must try to raise at least $1,000 each. In the recent months Capra has been meeting with high school students throughout the area. She has passed out more than 120 team registration forms and if most of those teams participate, raising $1,000 each, Capra should come close to her $100,000 goal. Nikkii Greenleaf, from the American Cancer Society, said Capra is a model recruiter.

"When she goes out and recruits teams she doesn’t just say, ‘Here’s the team captain’s packet.’ She e-mails them, and gives them fundraising ideas," Greenleaf said.

Capra had 10 teams, all from Madison High School, at Potomac Falls High School over the weekend, to participate in the Manassas Relay for Life.

"I invited a lot of my friends, it’s kind of like a big party, people can just roll by," said Jim Howand, president of the Madison student government association.

THE IDEA to raise $100,000 came from discussions between Capra and Maureen McDonnell-Weschler, a Vienna resident and former family counselor. McDonnell-Weschler, who has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, no longer works as a therapist but serves as a mentor for other women with cancer. She and her husband, an auctioneer, have raised over $1 million toward various causes.

McDonnell-Weschler has inspired Capra’s fundraising efforts, but she has also been a supportive friend. When Capra was undergoing chemotherapy she would often hear the question, "How are you?"

"I would be at the pool having a good time with my kids, laughing, and I would forget about it for a second," Capra said. "Then someone comes up and says, ‘How are you?’ You say, ‘Fine,’ and try to go on with what you were doing, but then they say, ‘No, really, how are you doing?’"

McDonnell-Weschler told Capra to keep telling people she was doing fine. But fine would no longer be an expression of content. It was an acronym, meaning freaking intense nightmare experience.

"If you say you’re fine and they walk away, it saves your energy," McDonnell-Weschler said. "There are those people who don’t want to know what is really going on. They are politely asking, but all they want to hear is the good news, not the bad."

STILL, SHE SAID, it is important to assemble a group of close friends to help in the struggle with cancer. When McDonnell-Weschler first got sick she established a set of committees, such as a laughter committee that found jokes so she and her family could laugh together. She also had a research committee that helped gather information about developments in cancer research.

"Nobody facing cancer can do it by herself," McDonnell-Weschler said.

Capra was especially grateful to a group of friends who, for a period of seven and a half weeks, cooked three meals a week for her and her family.

"A lot of treatments make it so you can’t eat, and so even the smell of food makes you sick," Capra said. "But you need to feed your family."

To help Capra toward her $100,000 goal, send a tax-deductible contribution to the American Cancer Society, Thomas Promise, 124 Park Street, Vienna. Checks should be made out to the American Cancer Society.

There is still time to get involved in Relay for Life, especially some of the later events. For more details call the American Cancer Society at 703-938-5550.