My friend Jenny invited me to join her team for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life a while back. I haven’t participated in an event like this before, so I really had no idea what to expect. She promised there was no killer exercise commitment required—this would be nothing like a marathon, thank goodness—so I gladly accepted her invitation. Victor also joined the team.
The Relay for Life we participated in was held at Clackamas High School, and Victor, Jack and I showed up at the track Saturday morning just after the opening ceremonies had begun. Everyone was gathered in the center of the field, and several people shared information about why we were there and how the next 24 hours would go. Then they introduced Mark-Antonio Grant, who spoke about his experience with cancer over the past year. He had tagged along with his family (friends of Jenny’s) at last year’s event and had been diagnosed soon after his return home to Los Angeles. He came back again for the relay this year and proudly wore his “survivor” shirt.
Side note: Jenny introduced me to Mark-Antonio (Tony) on Facebook a few months ago; he and I then exchanged several emails about what has helped us throughout our cancer fights. Two of the things we most definitely agreed on were the importance of having a positive attitude, and the importance of not going through the experience alone. I’ve said that all along, how grateful I am for my friends and family. I feel so fortunate for all you have done to make me feel cared for, to let me know that you’re thinking of me. I print out emails and Facebook messages and threads to remind myself of that when things start to feel dark.
Tony spoke that morning of the people who gave him hope, brought him Gatorade, stopped by for visits, lifted his spirits, etc. in some of the more challenging times. He said that he couldn’t have made it without his friends and family helping him along, and that those “caregivers” (to use American Cancer Society lingo) were as much to thank as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for his current state of remission.
To hear Tony speak about these things, and having that same kind of thankfulness for my caregivers, well… it got my tears flowing. Just the day before I had received a beautiful gift in the mail from Hawaii Laura, so my feelings of gratitude were fresh and renewed. You guys are just too good to me. Really. You’re amazing and generous and I don’t deserve you. But I’m takin’ you anyway (ha!), and I owe you a tremendous amount of thanks.
When he was done speaking, Tony came down to where Jenny and I were standing and I finally got to meet him in person. It was incredible. What a kind and generous man. I had a few opportunities to talk with him over the next few hours. We walked the survivor lap together, and our caregivers who were there joined us on the second half of the lap. They gave us survivor medals, survivor t-shirts, and t-shirts and pins just for our caregivers. They had the survivors stand behind a big banner for a photo, and then served us breakfast in the survivors’ tent.
Jack walked around with me and Vic for a while, checking out the team booths that had been set up, the Kid Zone, other items being sold, and the many booths set up for cancer-related information and donations. We made up luminaria bags for people we know who are currently fighting cancer, and in memory of those who we’ve lost to cancer. Overall, I was very impressed with the participation in Relay for Life in little ol’ Clackamas. There were tons of local sponsorships, more teams than I had expected, and the participants’ dedication to the event was obvious. So cool.
Because we didn’t have any specific relay shifts assigned to us, Jenny said we could walk whenever we felt like it, so we took a few additional laps that morning. We returned for the 10:00 luminaria ceremony that night, which was really special. It was neat to see all the bags lit up; it was also very, very sad. We walked four or five laps that night and then went home.
We had planned to go back for closing ceremonies in the morning, but then Mom called and said Katie—who’d been at her house all week—was sick. Victor and I both felt better that she come home, so we took off down south to pick her up. I was disappointed to miss the end of the Relay for Life, but I was so glad to have been a part of it on Saturday. It was a special experience.
Victor and I are talking about leading a team next year. I don’t want to do it if there would be any kind of competition with Jenny’s team, but if a team’s a team, I think we’d like to get more involved. The coordinators will be announcing future plans soon, and I hope you’ll consider being a part of next year’s Relay for Life with us.
Thank you again, Jenny, for introducing me to this event—and Tony! As much as I wish I was not part of the cancer “club,” I am comforted to know there are such wonderful people in it with me.