Story and photo by Cpl. Katherine Keleher
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – In 2010, after losing three family members to cancer, Capt. Elizabeth Hagner decided enough was enough. It was time for her to take an active role in helping cancer research.
Hagner, a native of Freeland, Md., talked to her friends and family and decided the most effective way for them to all get involved in not only remembering their passed loved ones, but also helping to find a cure for cancer, was through Relay for Life.
Relay for Life is the signature annual fundraising event of the American Cancer Society. The event consists of people across America donating and raising money based on miles walked by each member of the team.
“It’s a great way to get the family together for a good cause,” Hagner said. “It’s an [exercise] event, it raises money for an excellent cause and we’re helping to promote awareness.”
The Hagner family got together in 2010 and raised over $700 for Relay for Life. Hagner, who at the time was based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., as one of less than a dozen female Cobra helicopter pilots in the Marine Corps, did as much as she could to help her family in Maryland raise money. When time came for the event itself, Hagner took leave to participate.
“It’s kind of like a memorial for my family members who have died,” Hagner said. “Instead of just talking about it, we did something about it.”
This year, Hagner transferred to II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward) and deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan. She now works as the commander of the Female Engagement Team, where she oversees a team of nearly 40 servicewomen tasked with interacting with Afghan women and children to assist in implementing community development programs to serve the needs of Afghanistan.
In April, barely a month into her current deployment, Hagner suffered another loss when her uncle passed away from stomach cancer. Hagner had now lost four family members to cancer.
“That was rough,” Hagner said. “I lost my grandma on my dad’s side to breast cancer, my grandma on my mom’s side to lung cancer, my aunt to lung cancer and my uncle to stomach cancer,” she explained.
After her uncle’s passing, Hagner and her family made it a goal to raise over $1,000 for this year’s Relay for Life event at Goucher College in Baltimore, June 17. There was just one problem. Hagner, serving in Afghanistan, could not be present.
Regardless of the situation, Hagner’s family and friends decided they were still going to participate in the event. This year the team raised $1,700 for cancer research.
Hagner even found a way to attend the walk, if only in virtual form. She video chatted with her family over a computer for a few minutes in between one of their laps.
Her cousins, aunts and uncles took turns hopping in front of the laptop in Maryland, excited to catch a glimpse of their deployed Marine. As they walked, they even showed off a Marine Corps flag and a Team Hagner poster filled with pictures of her.
“It just wasn’t the same without her, she’s the life of the party,” said her parents Ron and Elaine through e-mail.
“We couldn’t be more proud,” explained her father, Ron, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. “She just keeps doing things like Relay for Life that makes us even more proud. Liz has always been a thoughtful and caring person. She always looks for the best in people.”
With Hagner’s deployment ending in the early fall, she looks forward to seeing her family and participating in next year’s Relay for Life.
“Next year, I should be able to take [vacation] again, so I can actually go participate with the rest of my family.”