C is for Cookie…not for cancer. This was the phrase on the back of one team’s t-shirts, hence the cookie monster tee above. I have participated in Relay For Life for almost 10 years now. Relay holds a special place in my heart, not only because I’ve loved and lost some very important people to the big c, but because my involvement in Relay helped me to see what I wanted to do with my life. After a few years of serving as the Event Chair, it was nice to get to truly experience Relay this year without having to troubleshoot all night. Every year my mom and I host a team with the bank where she works. Our very clever team name is Banking on a Cure. And yes, we have our very own t-shirts. We’re serious about our cancer fightin’!
Every year we have a team bake sale at our tent. We make homemade cookies – chocolate chip, peanut butter, cranberry oatmeal, German chocolate – and sell them to fundraise for our team. This year, my mom was all excited about the “guess how many m&m’s are in this jar” contest. (I think she thought she had made it up 🙂 ). $1 for 1 vote. My dad guessed it exactly but she refused to let him win. She just kept taking his dollars…
The event began with a survivor reception honoring those cancer survivors in our community and showing our appreciation of the hope that they share – the hope that gives the rest of us hope that one day we will beat this. One day, no one else will have to hear the words, “you have cancer”.
I will say, I massacred this cake when I was asked to cut it. At least I got a before shot, right?
Every Relay kicks off with the survivor lap, where all those cancer survivors who are presented walk the first lap of the night. There are sometimes strong survivors who have overcome cancer and won. Then there are those who struggle to walk that one lap with help from a loved one. It’s both sad and triumphant. A survivor is always there to share their story and then the names of every other survivor are read aloud. That is one of the only times during the night that it is quiet. The path is laid with luminaries in honor of or in memory of someone who has fought the battle. There are always so many names and when I take the time to read them as I’m walking it always melts my heart a little.
A few years ago they added a caregiver lap since those who care for cancer patients are also fighting the battle as they watch someone they love go through the roller coaster that the disease creates. The caregiver lap is so special and I think it is important to recognize those unsung heroes who often give up so much of themselves to become a caregiver. And they never stop being one.
After the caregiver lap, everyone is invited to walk the track. Teams usually do this on and off from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. The idea behind the overnight Relay is that cancer never sleeps and for one night, neither do we. It’s a way for all of us – survivor, caregiver, friend, loved one, or simply cancer-hater – to stand up to the disease and say we’re not through fighting. There are lots of onsite activities throughout the night – bouncy house, face painting, live music, the ever so popular and equally hilarious “Misster” Relay contest, etc. – but the whole reason we’re there is to fight back and remember those who have lost the battle as we celebrate those who have already won it.
After dark, we have the luminaria ceremony. All of the luminaries that have been set around the track with names of those who have had cancer or who are still fighting are lit with a candle. There is no chatter. No selling of food. No more games. Everyone walks in silence for about 30 minutes. It never fails, I cry every year. Not only because of the names I recognize, or even those of strangers, but also because I am reminded how fragile we are. Anything can happen to anyone on any given day. Beyond that, there are some cancers that are 100% preventable. So often people forget that sunscreen and staying away from tobacco are the easiest ways to protect yourself against the disease.
I love the picture above of the fountain in the park surrounded by luminaries. To me, the fountain lit in blue is peaceful and continuous. Even in times of strife and despair, there are times when we are able to find peace. Whether it’s on a mountaintop or a yoga mat, or even in pleasant conversation with an old friend, we have peaceful memories that help us to become refreshed and to continue fighting whatever battle we might be face with at that time. And no matter what the battle, life is continual. It goes on, even if we don’t.
We won’t all die from cancer, but cancer affects us all one way or another. In whatever we are facing, it is important to…
Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.