Army Sgt. 1st Class Carolina Castle said she was home on leave when she ended up in a chapel where a funeral was being held for a soldier who died of cancer.

Castle, 39, who survived leukemia and lost both her parents to cancer, said the moment was a revelation for her.

“Dear Lord, I got your message. I got it,” she said in a telephone interview Friday.

When she returned to Balad, Iraq, Castle began organizing a Relay for Life at Camp Anaconda.

Castle, of the 50th Engineers, said about 600 servicemembers were expected to participate in the American Cancer Society’s signature fund-raiser later Friday evening at Anaconda.

More than 1,200 servicemembers signed up for the event, but airmen at Balad Air Base were unable to attend because of safety concerns, Castle said.

Castle, of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., said this is the first time she organized a Relay for Life, a 12-hour event in which teams compete to walk or run around a track as many times as possible.

She said she initially expected only a few people to take part in the event, but 60 teams signed up.

“It’s a lot bigger than I wanted it to be, and that’s fine. I know where they’re coming from. I know their pain,” Castle said.

She said some of the servicemembers participating have lost loved-ones to cancer, while others still have family members who are battling the disease.

To raise the money to participate in the event, servicemembers got on the phone and called home to organize local fund-raisers, Castle said.

“I know one of them I believe his wife went as far as doing bake sales herself, she had a couple of yard sales and overall a couple of them folks had car washes,” she said.

Two corporate sponsors, Dodge and Folgers, also plan to contribute money per every mile walked by participating servicemembers, Castle said.

So far, teams have raised $12,000, and Castle hopes the event will raise $20,000 for cancer research, she said.

Castle stressed the importance of the fight against cancer, which she calls “just another terrorist.”

Fortunately, the fact that more people are participating in Relays for Life shows that more people are surviving the disease, she said. “The key here is hope.”

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