About 7-1/2 years ago, I was driving home from my bachelorette party with a couple friends. I was thinking about flower arrangements, must-play music and 10 days in Tahiti. You know, the important stuff in life. Then the conversation took a turn…and I was reminded that my friend, Nancy, has brain cancer. She was diagnosed in college and I lived with her as she went through brutal, life-changing treatments. But because her cancer responded and has remained at bay ever since, I too quickly forgot about her struggle.
That day, on our drive, she mentioned Relay for Life. I’d never heard of Relay, but it sounded amazing. The concept is that cancer never sleeps, so this 24-hour event requires you to have a team member walking a high school track at all times. Tents fill the football field, music fills the air and people of all ages unite to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
I decided then and there that I wanted to be a part of this on behalf of Nancy. Because while she’ll always be my fun friend, at least one day a year, I want to honor her as my friend who has gracefully battled a horrific disease.
Lenny and I signed on wholeheartedly and we walked. And walked. And walked. The first year, Lenny racked up 28 miles and I walked 23. (Yep, that was before we had kids.) And while I didn’t make quite as impressive an effort this year (as measured in lack of blisters, of course), my heart was in it as deeply as ever. Here are the lessons, or realizations, that I walked away with this year.
Lesson #1: When we started doing Relay seven years ago, we walked in honor of 8 family members and friends. Since then, 10 more people dear to us—ranging in age from 3 to 60-something—have been diagnosed with cancer.
Lesson #2: This year my dad came for the Survivor Lap and wore his hard-earned purple shirt and medal with pride. And while cancer survivors certainly deserve the opportunity to do a lap around the track with everybody cheering them on, their caretakers—like my mom—do too.
Lesson #3: The Luminaria Ceremony is the most beautiful part of the event. People can purchase luminarias that are decorated in honor of those who have survived cancer and in memory of those who have lost their lives to cancer. As the night gets dark, the candles glow—shedding a somber, but hopeful light on the event. This year a couple of high school students read a poem to start the ceremony. It was about how each bag represents a person…with a face and story. And as I walked, I couldn’t help but think of the stories of my loved ones whose names were lining the track.
Lesson #4: It can be really hard to talk to people with cancer about cancer. What do you ask? Do you just ignore the obvious and talk about other things? I have to admit that I often do. But what I’ve experienced at Relay is that people want to share their stories. And they’re each inspiring for a different reason.
Lesson #5: While most days cancer leaves me with a pit in my stomach and a hole in my heart, on Relay day I feel hope. I see triumphs. I see people caring. I see that while I’m just one in a million going through hard times due to this horrible disease, I’m also one in a million doing my best to make a difference. I have hope.