( Cancer survivors taking the first lap in the Relay tradition. )
Today is Relay day. This will be the 15th Relay I have participated in. I can’t tell you how many miles I have personally walked in all of those events, but if I had to guess I’d say it has been at least 300. For fundraising I have continued to increase my personal footprint each year, and will likely eclipse $3000 for the first time this year. As a team we’ve seen considerable fundraising success and each member is crossing their fingers that our efforts right up until we hit that track later today will have pushed us across the line for a $100,000 team lifetime total. (We were only $523 away at the time this was posted.) I joked to my wife yesterday morning that I want to get a banner that says “The next $100,000 is going to be easier!”
( This old pedometer has been retired. I have about 25-30 miles in me each year now. That's OK, right? )
So after nine years and all that has come with it, how in the world do I try to explain why I Relay? Hmmmm… The American Cancer Society has a slogan for the Relay For Life of: Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back. I think that will do nicely to frame my reasons to Relay.
Relay is a celebration, and what each of us celebrates is different. First and foremost I celebrate being here. I celebrate being able to spend time with my family and friends doing things we enjoy. I celebrate being able to tell you my story first hand. It’s hard to imagine a wounded widow or family trying to explain the value of their lost family member. It happens, but thankfully not to me; and that is worth celebrating.
( Being able to have fun making a difference is a blessing. Manchester Relay 2005. )
I celebrate the work that my teammates and I do and by extension every other person who has jumped in on this fight. Did you know that 1 in 10 Americans participate in the Relay For Life? That is a lot of accomplishments to celebrate, but I try my best!
( Relay For Life 2011. )
I celebrate new team members, new fighters and new Relay friends. Choosing to set aside a day and night, and all the lead up effort, to make a difference is an act worthy of friendship and celebration.
I celebrate the advances that researchers and medical professionals are making in the battle against cancer. It may not look like we are winning, but we ain’t losing either; and for that we should all celebrate!
This is where it gets tough. I have plenty of people to remember. I have my own vivid cancer memories to recall and be reinvigorated by. Writing this section will have me retracing many of those memories AND the emotions that come with them.
At Relay we walk around a track all night which means you have a lot of time to meet your fellow participants. I’ve been involved with this same Relay since 2005 and the core of the repeat participants have become my Relay friends; some of them I see only at Relay despite not living far apart.
For some of us, and cancer survivors specifically, who only see each other annually at Relay there is considerable anxiety about whether we will see each other again; and it doesn’t get easier as each year passes. Sometimes you find each other at the survivor celebration and sometimes randomly while walking the track. Sometimes you don’t find the person you are looking for, no matter how hard you search.
( BJ Allgaier was the most passionate cancer fight you will ever meet. Cancer decided she
couldn't stay and for that I will never rest. She believed in me and challenged me to be
more than I thought I could be in this fight. I'm sad not to have been able to thank her. )
I’ve had friends walk off that track never to walk another lap at Relay. I wish I could tell you that that was because they had moved or were involved in the fight in other ways. No, they are gone and all I have are the memories.
The loss of a loved one or friend is traumatic for everyone. Please don’t take my following statements to mean that I am creating a hierarchy of loss, no, I am merely sharing a particular context for when loss has added dimension.
Losing a Relay friend to the very disease you are working to fight is unfortunately familiar ground for people who participate in Relay. Cancer is our business. We want to save lives and extend the lives of those who live with cancer. We work to ensure those living with cancer live with dignity every day they get to enjoy. Too often we witness a lost fight. The loss initially hurts so much and then you get to thinking that somehow all your time and energy isn’t making enough difference; and you feel even worse. That last part isn’t true, but during your grief it is an unwanted and compounding element that is hard to shake. As you meet more and more people involved with Relay the frequency of this unfortunate experience only goes up. You get the point.
( Gerry, you always old me that my energy was inspiration and strength for you. That was a
two-way street. You battled for yourself and so many others. Walking the Relay as your friend
was a great honor and your friendship will never be lost. )
The only way to live through and beyond this challenge is to remember those who you have lost. Remember them from the best scenes of your time together. Remember them laughing and having fun, remember them pitching to make a difference alongside you. Imagine them giving you altitude as you cruise to new heights in your efforts to make their struggle and loss meaningful for others.
I Relay because I can. I do a lot of things since I was told I had cancer just because I can. Think about that for a minute. How purposefully do you live?
Thoreau said in Walden, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” I’ve loved Walden as a treatise on living with purpose since I first read it over 20 years ago. I’ve always been a cerebral person so quotes like that, and the ideas behind them, have always captured my imagination.
I got involved with the Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society because I wished to live with purpose, to learn more about the world I lived in, and not, when I came to die, discover I had squandered the second chance I had been given. So I fight back!
( After hours of walking and no sleep I still have the stones to run a few laps in defiance. )
I raise money, tell my story, walk around a track all night, advocate for legislative changes, share the facts and figures about cancer and its impact, tell people to do self-examinations and ask others to get involved as well. I also balance a healthy and active life with the craziness and convenience of the modern age, and advocate for others to try to do the same. We must try to live better, with more purpose, but we must also have fun!
I also Relay for HOPE. The hope that someday our civilization will have beat back cancer and nobody will ever have to be told they have cancer again. Can’t you just imagine how cool it will be to read the story of how and when humans cured cancer in the history books and think about how many people and resources it took to accomplish? Yeah the pyramids are pretty neat, but curing cancer will beat that hands down!
If you would like to support me in the fight against cancer please click this link to visit my Relay page where you can make a donation.