Rachel Layer is not your average person. In fact, she’s a little on the extraordinary side. But if you were to suggest this to her, she would deny it, insisting that it was actually her mother Carol who was truly special. This year Rachel ran in the Boston Marathon, her event jersey silkscreened boldly with the words “Carol’s Fight” and the logo of the Oral Cancer Foundation on the front of it. Clearly, she was on a mission.

As so many within the oral cancer community have seen firsthand, oral cancer is a deadly thief. No one knows that better than Rachel, who lost her mother Carol Layer to it. At the time of her diagnosis, Carol was a 44-year-old non-smoker, non-drinker, that was not HPV positive. Her treatment was brutal, with countless surgeries that included a complete neck dissection to remove the lymph nodes, partial removal of her tongue that was then reconstructed using parts of her wrist and thigh, and ultimately the removal of her jaw.

When it comes to illness, it is easy to forget the humanity of a person. Getting caught up in survival is common and can ultimately leave a patient physically depleted, emotionally exhausted, and needing more than support from an oncology team. This is how Carol came to know the Oral Cancer Foundation. She was a much loved member of the OCF online patient support forum, and found a community of kindred spirits that could share in her struggles and successes. In 2011 Carol passed after a 9-year battle with oral cancer. A loving and caring woman who always had a smile on her face who was lost at too young an age, to such a terrible disease.

In 2014 Rachel started “Carol’s Fight”- a campaign to raise awareness of the disease that took so much from her and others who loved Carol. Rachel has done a great deal to raise awareness so that others can know of this disease, the risk factors, and how early detection can save your life.

“I wasn’t just running for my mom, I was running for the entire oral cancer community. The patients, survivors, family members/caregivers, and members of the dental community engaged in screening and early discovery, who are all connected through our common pain and losses that this disease has caused. The Boston Marathon was a way to connect in triumph. To recognize the ones we have lost but also acknowledge that the work to beat this disease didn’t die with them. That is why I ran on Monday.”

On April 15th, Rachel ran in the Boston Marathon. To say she ran in honor of her mother doesn’t quite do it justice- Rachel ran for every person who has ever had to live through the pain of oral cancer. She ran for those who survived. She ran for those who didn’t. She ran for the loved ones who suffered the same broken heart she did. She ran to give a voice to so many who are unable to speak after their treatments, and to engage more individuals from the dental community to, through screening for the disease, be the first line of early discovery. Rachel was a champion for the entire community.

We are proud to say that not only did Rachel run the Boston Marathon in partnership with OCF to raise awareness, but she raised $5,000 toward the cause through her effort. Thank you to the many people who contributed to Rachel’s efforts and helped make this all possible! We at OCF are so thankful of her continued support and advocacy for oral cancer awareness, and we cannot wait to see what she does next!

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