My husband and I have taken part in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for at least the past 12 years. Our local event is held at the Kane County Cougars minor league ball field in nearby Geneva. We’ve previously formed teams – for our religious education Confirmation class service project, in honor of my sister-in-law’s fight with lung cancer (“Nancy’s Angels”) and “Linnea’s Legacy” in memory of a dear friend who lost her battle to breast cancer. Some years we don’t join or form a team, but just participate in the opening ceremonies, purchase luminaries and walk through the event and around the track. The event is therapeutic, not only for those affected in that moment by cancer, but also as a time to pause our hectic lives to remember those we’ve lost to the fight and honor those that celebrate another year of survivorship.
Most years at the event are about the same. This year was different for me. I was on the other side of treatment as evidenced by my purple paint handprint on the 2012 survivor banner. Some survivor’s mark their time from the date of diagnosis. In that case, I’m at about 1 year and 6 months. Others seem to feel that once they were cancer free, they started counting. Or some when their treatment was over. Regardless, I’m now in a new class labeled “survivor.”
As I scanned the group sitting on the field during the opening ceremony, there were a few bald heads, a wheelchair and a tremendous age span of fellow survivors. My view this year was up close and personal to the speaker and I absorbed the sights of a sea of Relay participants much more effectively than in the stands. My vantage point was both interesting and lonely. Steve was not sitting by me, but rather in the bleachers and I felt out of place without him. I remembered back to previous years when I sat in the stands looking down at the survivors and wondered what their stories were. I remember feeling sick to my stomach when I saw a small child wearing a purple survivor shirt. I remember crying a river of tears for my friends and family who have battled and lost their lives to cancer. But this time was different.
Reflecting on this change, I realize it has something to do with the difference between giving and receiving. I am much more familiar and comfortable on the giving end – fund raising, planning, organizing, helping, but not so much on the receiving end. At Relay this year, I just showed up, was given a t-Shirt, a nice dinner, a medal, made a handprint and even won a door prize. Odd, I felt a bit, as it seemed strange to be rewarded because I had cancer. But once I got over that and started to take in my new view, I realized what a wonderful event Relay truly is. It is a way for people who have been touched by cancer to give back, to empower them to make a difference in some way they can participate in. It is a way for survivors to count our blessings and to provide HOPE to those in the future.
As I watched the St. Charles High School Dance team do a kick routine, I counted out eight girls, then to eight again and again. Of the 24 girls in the kick line, today’s statistics say that 3 of them will have breast cancer in their lifetime. Let’s hope the odds change in their favor by the time they are my age. We can HOPE.