Her son was just a year old when a routine mammogram in 2001 revealed that Nancy Simpson had breast cancer.
"It was a total shock to me because I was a young mom with three kids — who never had any of the normal risk factors for breast cancer," said Simpson, a Herndon resident and special education teacher with Fairfax County Public Schools. "When I went for my routine preventive mammogram, I never imagined that it could come up as me having cancer."
Fortunately for Simpson, the cancer had not spread into her lymph nodes and doctors were able to wage an aggressive and lengthy — but successful — attack against the cancer while her family and friends offered her their support. Simpson endured chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a mastectomy in order to stave off the possible spread of the cancer.
Last year she was pronounced free of the disease.
"My life will never be the same, it was a very tough recovery," said Simpson. "But I have children that I wanted to fight for, and my goal was to at least make it to be around in five years so I could see my daughter graduate from high school, and now I am going to do that in just a few weeks."
Simpson and her daughter will be joining together in more than a graduation party this year, as the two, along with the rest of their family, will be participating in Herndon's local Relay For Life, a nationwide cancer benefit under the supervision of the American Cancer Society.
THIS YEAR WILL MARK the third year that the town of Herndon will host its own benefit, as more than 50 teams totaling more than 800 participants will take part in the two-day event that will stretch from June 10-11 at Herndon High School's track.
It is one of 10 Relay for Life events that will take place, or already have taken place, in Northern Virginia, according to Herndon Relay for Life committee member and former American Cancer Society staff member, Shari True.
Simpson will be one of the survivors to address the crowd during this year's opening ceremony.
In 2004, its inaugural year, Herndon's Relay for Life was named the "rookie relay of the year" for the South Atlantic region, after more than 600 participants were able to raise over $124,000, according to Herndon Relay for Life figures. The town's cancer advocates eclipsed that figure last year after more than 700 participants raised $159,000.
The average regional Relay for Life event, of which there are 4,000 every year throughout the country, is about $60,000, according to True.
This year, committee members have set their goals at reaching $175,000, True said.
"It's such a great community, Herndon is such a terrific group of people that everyone has really been so supportive of [the event]," said True, who was the American Cancer Society representative for the establishment of the Herndon relay.
"Cancer touches the lives of everyone, and the people who participate in this want to do something to fight back against the disease, and [the Relay] gives them that opportunity — and also [the opportunity] to have fun and do something for a good cause at the same time."
The Relay for Life acts as a fund-raiser where teams are encouraged to be creative in raising money, as they try everything from yard sales to reality show competition re-creations, according to Herndon Relay for Life committee member Lisa Karim.
After teams raise as much money as possible for the benefit, they take their efforts to the Relay itself, where teams sponsor other events and competitions among the participants to raise more money for the cause. As much as half of the money made during the benefit is made at the Relay itself, Karim said.
ALL OF THE MONEY raised in the event goes to cancer research and treatment and to increasing awareness and education throughout the country.
"A lot of times when people are first revealed to have cancer they feel like they are alone, and it is events like this that show them that they aren't and that there are a lot of people who care for them," True said. "By showcasing [the American Cancer Society] we can reveal services and awareness information, but also show people — that the community cares about them."
"I see this as an educational thing, and not just something that is about breast cancer, but all types of cancer," said Simpson, who is also a member of the Relay committee.
Cancer "seems to have been something that has touched everybody in some way, and they want to do something about it. Even those who haven't been touched by this, everybody just wants to come out and help."
"I can't control what cancer has done to me," she added, "but I can come out and do something by participating [in Relay for Life] and I can make an effort — and spread the message."