Gale Holmes has been a Redskins fan since she was 10 years old, so getting the chance to go out on the field during pregame for the Redskins vs. Panthers game was a special moment for her.
Following it up by spending a day at the team facility for the Redskins Charitable Foundation’s 11th annual All-Star Survivors Celebration was just icing on the cake, she said. But Holmes’ story, although she was reluctant to call it that, began last year in August when she went for a routine checkup at the doctor’s office. Holmes said they asked her to come back in and do a biopsy, and it came back positive for breast cancer.
“I guess at that point I’m like...you know I never thought that I would get it but my mom and my aunt, her sister, both had it. They both had a double mastectomy, so I was just hoping I wouldn’t, but you know, there starts my journey,” Holmes said.
Since then she’s gone through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and she’s waiting for her last few treatments of the year. Throughout her battle, Holmes said she’s gotten her strength from her mother, who passed away in 2013, 17 years after fighting breast cancer herself.
“I guess I just pulled from what she did, a lot of my strength came from her even though she’s not here now, I just thought about her, she seemed so strong during that time,” Holmes said. “I think that carried me a lot. My daughter, my sister, they were terrific.”
Local women currently battling breast cancer were treated to an afternoon of pampering as they took part in makeup consultations, wig fittings, jeans fittings, massages and tours of Redskins Park on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
Holmes wasn’t alone that day, as 29 other women battling breast cancer were invited along with her to the event for a day of celebration.
The event began 11 years ago when former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cooley said he saw the battle that his mom went through, and realized the toll that radiation and chemo can have on self-confidence.
“As we went through everything that she went through, she kept teaching high school in Ashburn and she kept going to everything,” Cooley said. “I just hated to see my mom sick and I knew she hated to see herself sick, and we just started talking about what are some of the things that we can possibly do.”
Cooley teamed up with Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s wife Tanya Snyder, herself a survivor of breast cancer, as well as the Redskins Charitable Foundation and the American Cancer Society.
Snyder has been heavily involved in breast cancer awareness, starting the NFL’s Think Pink campaign 20 years ago. Since then her involvement has sparked the Crucial Catch program, in which all 32 NFL teams participate in promoting awareness for early detection of many different types of cancers.
Cooley, Snyder and the Redskins came up with the All-Star Survivors Celebration, a day of pampering and celebration for the survivors.
The event boasted a variety of stations for the women to visit including a GAP jeans station where the women got a free pair of jeans and a fitting, a custom ‘Color Bar’ station by Kendra Scott, wig and scarf selection from the American Cancer Society, a relaxation and physical therapy session held by Inova, a Red Door Spa treatment session and a makeup consultations and services by Ana B.
The event on Tuesday at Redskins Park featured participation from Redskins players Alex Smith, Nick Sundberg, Danny Johnson, Brandon Scherff, Chase Roullier, Kenny Ladler, Brian Quick, Dustin Hopkins, Adrian Peterson, Mack Brown and Darvin Kidsy.
They led tours of the facility and even got involved in the activities themselves, as Sundberg and Ladler each got fitted for wigs and head scarves.
Sundberg chose a wig featuring straight, long black hair and he seemed very excited to show it off. Ladler got fitted for a short, silver haired wig and was all smiles posing for the cameras. The event was meant to be a day of celebration and lightheartedness for the survivors, and the players did their best to ensure that.
Sundberg, who has family members who have fought breast cancer, said the day is also helpful for the Redskins players.
“I think for players this is a really cool event that we get to be a part of, just because I don’t think every player understands the daily struggles that these ladies go through when they’re dealing with something like breast cancer,” he said. “To see them come in, and be so strong, and to be so uplifted and happy, I think is really important for guys to be a part of.”
He added that giving the women the opportunity to meet other survivors who are going through similar situations is an important part of the event.
“I haven’t gone through what they’re going through, but it is fun to see them try on wigs, and get fitted for new clothes and jewelry,” Sundberg said. “The best part of the day is when I get to give them a tour of the facility, I put shoulder pads and helmets on everybody. It’s a fun event.”
The event culminated with a luncheon in the players’ cafeteria, featuring story-sharing and a poem read by Carolyn Cole-Rodenburg. Each survivor was given a Bosom Buddy gift basket, donated by the IIIB’s Foundation, which Cole-Rodenburg herself started in 2004 after her own battle with breast cancer.
The baskets featured items meant to give comfort to the survivors. They included socks, blankets, scarves and other traditional items of comfort, but they also contained some more specific to breast cancer such as a seat belt protector, to make it more comfortable for women who had undergone a mastectomy to wear a seat belt in the car.
“Just being around, you know, other people. I feel for them and I hope, everybody seems to be cheerful, upbeat, I’m just realizing I guess because we’ve all been going through some of the same things, at different points in time,” Holmes said. “My prayers are for them, I appreciate all of this, truly do, and it’s cool. I’m just like looking around and seeing things like ‘Wow, this just, it’s great.’”