(Note: Relay for Life is a 24-hour event for the American Cancer Society, that celebrates survivors of cancer, remembers those we have lost to cancer and raises money for the care of cancer patients and for medical research. It took place in Statesville, NC May 18-19, 2012. Feel free to comment on your own thoughts as you relayed.)
As I relayed I remembered my friend Mary, who I accompanied to an appointment at Duke Hospital over 15 years ago. The appointment was to discuss her option of a bone marrow transplant. The treatment was still very experimental for ovarian cancer, but it was the only option left for her. When she asked me what I thought she should do, I said “You have to do it. Your daughter is 16 years old. You have to fight with everything you’ve got.”
At times during the next year I regretted those words, as I saw her body ravaged by the treatment, as I saw her very close to the brink of death. She lived a little over a year after that, spending much of it recovering from the brutal effects of the transplant. She lived to plan her daughter’s high school graduation party, but did not live to attend it.
As I relayed I thought of where we have come with regard to chemo and radiation, stem cell and bone marrow transplant treatment, but just how far we have to go. In recent years two friends of mine and one friend of my family have had transplants. We lost Barry, the longtime friend of our family, after a valiant but ugly fight this year. My friends David and Mike, however, have not only survived their transplants but are back to “real life.”
As I relayed I thought about my cousin Jonathan, who would have been 41 on Mother’s Day this year. He died at age seven, right around the time of my high school graduation. There has been a hole in our family ever since. He was a joy as a boy, but we missed seeing him become a man.
As I relayed I thought of my niece Sara, who has survived cancer for five years. She experienced her first Relay this weekend, raised lots of money and spent the whole 24 hours there (and more) with her husband and three children. She is a person of passion, and it was beautiful to see her passion directed at raising money for Relay.
As I relayed I thought of my friend and team captain Barb, who was desperately missing her daddy this year. The last couple of years she spent much time as his caregiver, even when he was cranky and feeling sick and vulnerable and uncomfortable sharing this with his beloved daughter. She worked so hard this year for Relay in his memory, as she did as she was fighting for his life.
As I relayed I thought of my young friend Bryan, who fought so many brain tumors as a teenager, but lived life to the full. Who was my constant concert buddy during his teenaged years, with whom I shared so much laughter and conversations both silly and deep. Who built a faith in his life that was strong and mature. Who promised to save me good concert seats in heaven if he got there before me. Who is now saving me those seats. Who I still remember at every concert I attend on this earth, and many times in between. Who I think just may be jamming along in heaven.
As I relayed I remembered little Erin, who first got my attention at Relay one year, so cute in the bandana she had wrapped in her hair as she walked with the survivors. Something about her grabbed my heart. I found out later that she had had chemo that afternoon, but was determined she was going to march the survivor’s walk. I chaired Relay the next year, and I was privileged to have her as our honorary chair. Could there be a greater goal to raise money for research than looking at Erin’s sweet face? We raised money and she was such an inspiration. But it was too little, too late. We lost Erin before our next Relay. Her face from that first Relay, however, is photographed in my mind.
As I relayed I thought of my ballooning friends who have fought cancer, especially Ursula, Rob and Roy…. who all bring such joy to my life. I hope they all make many, many more survivor’s laps, have many soft landings, and that I am always in their lives to cheer them on.
As I relayed I thought of my friends Lou and Amy, just married. Both lost their spouses to cancer. Lou bought luminaries in memory of Brenda and Bill, whose lives will forever be remembered in their new family. Seeing their luminaries made me sad, but I also was touched by Lou’s heart….which is so full of love…and God’s provision for his and Amy’s future.
As I relayed I thought of my college roommate Ann, who had a double mastectomy this year. Who researched and was equipped when she met with her doctors, listened to what they said but took control of the decision making. She was determined to be a victor instead of a victim of the disease. And so far….she has cancer pinned. Cancer – 0; Ann – 1
As I relayed, I thought of a friend of mine, who was supposed to have been attending the event with us this year, but instead was hospitalized fighting the effects of her most recent chemotherapy. Who just may give me “the look” for even mentioning her here….but is a woman of great power who needs more energy to continue to change the world. Let this be the year they find the perfect treatment that will get her through this bout and have her relaying with us next year, healthy and full of energy.
As I relayed I thought of my friend Claire…..for whom I bought a luminary “In Honor” of, but who died before that luminary was allowed to burn. It instead lit up the darkness in her memory.
As I relayed I thought of all of the survivors I get to cheer for year after year. Some who I met through Relay. People who survived with purpose…..and one of those purposes is making sure they are part of finding a cure.
As I relayed I thought of those who have not had their physicals or gotten the easy (and often free) tests that could catch cancer and get people treated in the early stages. Mammograms, pap smears, colonoscopies, PSAs, monthly breast checks….simple things about which people are too complacent. I thought of people who ignore symptoms out of fear or because they want to believe it is nothing. Who are so busy in the short term, that they don’t take the time to do the things that will keep them with us for the long term. Who make jobs harder for our medical professionals because they aren’t willing to partner with them and really tell them what is going on with their bodies.
As I relayed I thought of all of the people I am blessed to love and for whom I have a furious passion that we will stop this disease. There is research that needs to be funded, treatments that need to be paid for. There are brilliant young people who need to be encouraged to go into medical research and people who are already in medical research that need both funding and encouragement. While we can’t bring those we have lost to this horrible disease back to this earth, we can still prevent others from its devastating effects.
As I relayed I thought of all of the volunteers it took to put on the event. I talked with Tim, who served on the committee with me as I chaired, and we remembered the happy exhaustion we felt when it was over. And when were so tired we needed to take a break. And those who stood up and took our place, and did the work to make the event continue. I wondered who would step up next…who will stand up and volunteer to take their place, when they are weary. Or volunteer with them and renew their energy. Tag-teaming and using lives, in one of the best way possible ways.
As I relayed I sometimes felt hopeless. Cancer is big, it is ugly, it is a devastating monster that just seems to keep eating people alive. But then I looked around at all of the people that were there. And people who were not there physically, but who gave money, or supported fundraisers, or just grabbed the ear of God. People who care. People who will be available. People who will be the warriors. People who will beat cancer. People who replace my discouragement with hope.
As I relayed I cried. But I also smiled.