Thursday, July 28, 2011

Relay for Life

Before last year, I had never attended a Relay for Life event.  Every spring a Relay event is held at the high school my oldest nephew, Will, and my niece/Will's sister Allison, attend.  Last year Allison was performing at the event with her show choir, so the girls and I went to hear her and to support both of their Relay teams.  We ended up spending several hours there, playing games and in Rebecca's and my cases, getting totally sunburned.  Will told me that they honored survivors at the event each year, so I could attend next year's event more formally.  I was so impressed and touched by everything these high school kids had done to raise money, and so I agreed that I would attend the 2011 event as an official survivor.

Will was a member of a Relay team again this year, so Jim and I donated to his team and I signed up as a survivor.  On the morning of Relay, we arrived at the high school track in plenty of time for the opening ceremonies.  A few people gave some touching speeches about their experiences with cancer, words that moved both me and Jim.

As a survivor I received a special purple t-shirt advertising Relay on the front with the words "Celebrate Remember Fight Back".  On the back of the shirt it says "I'm living proof".

After the opening ceremonies concluded, I joined a number of other purple t-shirted people on the track to walk a "Survivor Lap".  The experience of that one quarter-mile lap was more emotional than I had anticipated.  As we walked the track, people, mostly the students on Relay teams, stood along the inner edge of the track, where they applauded and cheered us as we passed.  On the back side of the track I saw Allison, who had cut across the football field to see me.  She was crying, which really touched me, so I jogged over to give her a hug as the purple wave rolled past.  After the lap, survivors and caregivers were invited into the high school cafeteria for a luncheon provided by Outback Steakhouse.  I located Jim and the girls in the crowd, and my sister-in-law Melissa agreed to entertain the girls while we had lunch.  At the cafeteria we found seats at a table with one other couple.  We enjoyed chicken caesar salads and cheesecake slices, along with very pleasant conversation with our table mates.  All survivors received a small backpack filled with several gift items; it was a nice surprise.  After lunch we met up with the girls and hung around for a while.  While there we got to enjoy the cooking of Will's team, the Man Burger Squad, and some roasted sweet corn.  Yum...

Along the outside edge of the track they began to place luminaries which were "purchased" in honor or memory of a cancer patient.  Allison had told me that she decorated a luminary for me, so I was eager to find it along the oval.  As we began to walk around the track, I saw a luminary with my name on it, but no decoration, so I knew it wasn't the one Allison had mentioned.  My nephew Marty was at Relay with his Boy Scout troop, and he told me later that he had donated money to buy a luminary for me.  What a kid... I gave him a hug to thank him for such a sweet gesture.  It was both sobering and heartening to see all of the luminaries there.  There were a few names that appeared on multiple luminaries; I wondered who those people were who had so many people donating in their names.

On the back side of the track we found my Allison-donated luminary.  She included on it a quote that I had found on Facebook and added to my profile:

I had purchased luminaries in memory of my dad and my friend Deb, but I hadn't seen either of them as we came around the homestretch of the track.  Will explained that they were still putting out luminaries and that by the end of the day, they would have luminaries lining both the inner and outer edges of the track.  I gave up on the idea of finding my two donation luminaries, but then there they were, next to each other.

There was an official lighting ceremony scheduled to take place at dusk, and I hoped to return to see it.  Unfortunately, my Sutent-induced foot pain had been aggravated by my afternoon of walking, so I stayed home with my feet elevated instead.  Hopefully next year I can see the beautiful light of all of those luminaries.

Some of the fun the girls had:

The girls meet up with the Energizer Bunny

The battle of cousins - Marty and Rebecca

Caroline airborne