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Survivor Joins Relay for Life

Sterling Coalition crusades for American Cancer Society.

As a Sweet Survivor, Linda Levine Silverman did not need to do too much talking to the Sterling Community Coalition to get walking in the annual Relay for Life.

Levine Silverman, a Sterling Park resident, is a breast cancer survivor and a member of Sterling Community Coalition, Inc., which brings together various organizations to focus on community improvement and to assist families and youth in the greater Sterling area.

Earlier this year, the Sterling Community Coalition members discussed doing another project like the Summer in the Park event the members initiated in June 2002 nine months after the coalition formed. Levine Silverman suggested the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life as a good cause. "We as a coalition should do something this big," she said, later adding that she would have participated in the relay anyway.

The coalition agreed and named Levine Silverman team captain to help organize the team's participation in the event, which typically brings out 80 teams in eastern Loudoun, she said. Fifteen coalition members joined the team, which is called the Coalition Crusaders, including six deputy sheriffs, a few politicians, a community bank manager, a Girl Scouts of America director and church youth group director.

"Knowing our history of working in the community and being a partner in the community, this type of partnership is exactly what we're looking for to assist with a positive cause and to put the Sterling community in a positive light," said Chris Jones, president of the Sterling Community Coalition and an Ashburn resident.

"The American Cancer Society is a great cause," said Jodie Leach of Sterling, who represents a youth group from St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Sterling that will be participating in the relay. "This is a great opportunity for kids to be able to participate in events that reach a lot of lives."

RELAY FOR LIFE will be a 24-hour Celebration of Life dedicated to cancer patients and cancer survivors, along with their families and friends. The relay will aim to raise funds to fight cancer while raising awareness about cancer prevention.

"I became compassionate about helping people," said Levine Silverman, who besides undergoing breast cancer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1983, leukemia in 1993 and fibromyalgia in 2000. "It's almost funny. What did I do here? Did I do something wrong?" she said.

When Levine Silverman found out on April 23, 1996 that she had stage three cancer, the news at first did not register with her, she said. The doctor blurted out that she needed a mastectomy, and she became "hysterical," she said. "I'm shrieking in the surgical room, 'I'm going to die.'"

Levine Silverman had her then seven-year-old daughter to consider. "If it weren't for her, I'm not sure if I would have gone through the process," she said. "The side effects were so bad. I was so sick."

Levine Silverman underwent treatment, chemotherapy and radiation from May 1996 to May 1997. Her doctor told her how bleak things looked. "What I want to talk about is living," she said, telling her doctor she did not want to talk about dying or about cancer. The doctor and staff abided by her wish, something she found to be "empowering," she said.

Levine Silverman chose to be proactive. She stopped reading the newspapers and listening to the news and avoided anything else that could be negative. She did not read information booklets having anything to do with cancer. "I knew I'd get sicker if I read what could happen," she said.

LEVINE SILVERMAN joined a support group in Fairfax County, then a group closer to home through the Loudoun Cancer Care Center. In 1997, she participated with 11 other women from the support group in Relay for Life, along with their significant others, or care givers. As each year passed, members were lost to the disease and new ones joined. The women called their team the Sweet Survivors.

"It's like a family," said Levine Silverman, who is now in remission. "It's amazing how you can be in a group and you hold on. You understand what it's like."

As a member of the support group, Levine Silverman attended "lots of funerals," she said. "The experience I had through that is realizing life is too short. We take life for granted. We bitch and moan [about things] that become insignificant when you're faced with your mortality."

Levine Silverman attributes cancer to giving her the impetus to start her own business in 1998, an employee assistance practice she calls HLS & Associates, Inc. for Healthy Living Strategies.

"All this stuff, I'm doing is because of cancer. Cancer is the best thing that happened to me," said Levine Silverman, a psychotherapist and a certified substance abuse counselor. "I don't take anything for granted, but I'm scared to death. ... It will not end, ever. As long as I'm living, I'm always running the risk of dying."

THE RELAY for Life event will be held at Potomac Falls High School on May 31 with opening ceremonies at 1 p.m. and the Luminaria Ceremony at 9 p.m. The Coalition Crusaders will provide opportunities to dunk-a-deputy for $1, a fund-raiser for both the American Cancer Society and the Sterling Community Coalition.