One week from now, I’ll be in the middle of one of my family’s most important events of the year, the American Cancer Society‘s Relay for Life. I’ve been involved with this event, as often as I could, since 2001(This was the first year I’d heard of it.). Aaron’s been wonderful about planning our trips home to coincide with it whenever possible, even when we lived on the other side of the country. Although this event takes place in thousands of communities, I prefer to stick with Midland’s. While there are many similarities between events, each community has it’s own spin on things. Or maybe it’s just because that’s where I came from, and I’m familiar with it.
Relay for Life has been around since 1985, when a doctor in Washington, Dr. Gordy Klatt, walked and ran around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society(ACS). The next year, more people participated, and it’s been growing ever since. According to the ACS website, they’ve since raised over $4 billion for cancer research and patient information and support. While many advances have been made over the years, saving many lives, there is still a long way to go before cancer is no longer a threat to us and our loved ones.
Why do I do it? At first, I did it for my mom. In 1994, she passed away from complications due to multiple myeloma. She’s still a strong reason behind why I do it, but I’ve since had many more reasons. I do it for my dad, who was diagnosed with oral cancer, but has been able to overcome it, with treatments. I do it for my friend Ann, who lost her battle last year(You can find the team founded in her honor here). I do it for my teammates, those that have survived, and those that have not. I do it for my family. And, at this point, I do it for the strangers I pass on the streets.
We’ve all been touched by cancer, and I very much consider it a “bad touch.”
Relay is a great way to remember those whom we’ve lost because of cancer. But it is also a wonderful way to celebrate those who have survived. It’s a way to support those who are currently fighting it, to join them in their fight.
It’s also a lot of fun.
Throughout the event there are themed laps, where everyone dresses in a certain manner(80’s, crazy hats, pajama) or does an activity(hokey-pokey, jump rope) for an entire lap around the track. Also, there is entertainment by local groups, singers, and usually a DJ. There are games, and even a pageant. Usually after midnight, everyone gets a little loopy, so it’s not just the performers who are entertaining!
There are also multiple ceremonies. The opening ceremony is to remind us why we’re there, and to get us pumped up for the event. Later in the day there is the Fight Back ceremony, where you hear personal stories, and are again energized to keep going. In the evening, there is the Survivor and Caregiver ceremony, which highlights not just those who have had cancer, but those who also care for the survivors during their battle. This is followed by two special laps, one for the Survivors, and one for their Caregiver. These are, by far, my favorite laps. That night, once the sun sets, it’s time for the Luminaria ceremony, where we gather to remember our loved ones in a candlelit ceremony. Throughout the day, the track is been lined with Luminarias(Personalized paper bags, with a candle inside, in honor of those who have been touched by cancer-especially those who have been lost). Just before the ceremony, they are lit, and the rest of the night we walk surrounded by their warm glow. Twenty-four hours after we began, we have our final ceremony, the closing ceremony. This one is all about us, because we made it! As a group, we walked for 24 hours to show cancer that we are united in our fight against it.
It’s a long, intense, emotional, and draining day. And it’s worth every moment.
Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.