Each year, Virginia Run's Thanksgiving Turkey Trot is run in honor of those from the community who've died of cancer, the past year. This time, there are two people, and one of them is Mary Graham.
After a valiant battle, she died Oct. 19, 2003 — too close to the start of last year's race to be honored in time for that event. But this year, she is being honored.
"SHE WAS diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, but held on for 13 years," said her husband Gerald, 57. She underwent a combination of surgery and chemotherapy to combat the disease.
"She had a mastectomy on our 20th wedding anniversary," he said. "She was a fighter — she didn't give up."
Both originally from Michigan, the Grahams lived in Centreville's Virginia Run community since June 1992. Married 33 years, they had one son, Sean, 21, a 2002 Westfield High graduate. He's currently in an electrical-apprentice program and lives at home.
Gerald is in the electronic-security business, in government sales. And in all the places they lived before coming to Virginia — Michigan, Kansas and St. Thomas-Virgin Islands — Mary taught special education for 16 years.
She was 56 when she died and was one of three family members who've died of cancer in the past 13 months. In fact, Gerald attended the funeral for the most recent one, last weekend. Nine months after losing his wife, his mother died in July of bone cancer. And his brother-in-law died last Wednesday, Nov. 10, of lung cancer.
"Mary was in remission for almost six years, but the cancer came back in 1996," said her husband. She had a T-cell transplant in 1997. Explained Gerald: "They filter the cells out of your blood, freeze them and save them."
BUT TRAGICALLY, the procedure had little effect on the progression of her illness. "She was so worn out," said Gerald. "After that, it never really went away, and she died on Oct. 19 ."
Because he's a former Marine, she's buried at Arlington National Cemetery. And since her death, he's trying as best he can to pick up the pieces of his life without her. Saying he's "doing fine," he said, "Mary wouldn't want me to do anything but move forward."
As for the 2004 Virginia Run Turkey Trot being run partly in her honor, Gerald is pleased that she'll be remembered in such a special way in the community they've called home for more than a decade. "That was very nice of them," he said.
He described his wife as "helpful to everyone and definitely a humanitarian." Besides that, he added, "She was the best friend you could ever have."