Yesterday, I went to the Relay for Life at UCLA. Typically, I donate money directly to the causes I especially care about, rather than participate in events.
I have heard lots about the Relay from family and a good family friend who have done the Relay for years, and I donated money when I could and looked forward to seeing the pictures from the event each year – the tents, the t-shirts, the team, the triumph, the luminarias.
But then I got cancer. My mom did a walk-a-thon last year, and my sister was considering one too. I wasn’t planning on doing the Relay until my step-brother, who goes to UCLA, told me that was going to be captain of a team, and he asked me to come participate.
I thought about it for awhile because I wasn’t sure how it would all feel; I finally decided that yes, it would be good to go, for about a million reasons.
The whole thing came so fast that I barely had time to get nervous or to think about how it would feel to take the “survivor’s lap” or to stand out as a cancer survivor in a big crowd of people. I thought about it a little, and I just didn’t know what to think, but then suddenly time was a-wasting, and I had to put a badge on my Facebook page to start fundraising!
I didn’t put out too many calls/e-mails for fundraising because so many people have already done so much to help me and my family through my year of treatment. On top of that, I wasn’t completely comfortable asking for money in these difficult economic times.
Putting a badge on my FB page helped me feel like I wasn’t targeting anybody specifically. I just used the status update a couple of times to let folks know that I was fundraising, and it brought in an amazing amount of money, fast. That, and some generous contributions from family when my sister (also a generous contributor) sent around the link to my Relay for Life page helped put me over $500 in just a week.
For anyone who has never been to a Relay before, the UCLA one took place in a large stadium on campus. The different teams had tents set up just inside the stadium’s track, right on the outer edges of the lawn. The middle of the lawn was open, and folks played croquet, frisbee, catch, etc.
Once the Relay started, there were always folks walking, trotting or running around the track. I left in the late afternoon, but there were plenty of folks there who were planning to stay the night, alternating between walking the track and sleeping.
My step-brother was captain of his team, and he brought a tent, sleeping bags, board games and more to keep the 24 hours comfortable and fun for all. He was a great host, and along with his girlfriend and my other step-brother, they all did their best to make me and my husband and our daughters feel welcomed and supported.
I received a purple t-shirt that said “SURVIVOR” on the back, so it was easy for event coordinators to spot me and call me over when there were events in the survivor’s section. They had food there, crafts, gifts and photo ops.
Sometimes I can’t even believe that I had cancer, so it’s very difficult to explain how it felt to be a part of the survivor’s group at the Relay. First of all, I can say that the volunteers who ran the event were incredibly kind and genuine. In fact, one of the volunteers was a former student who lost her father to cancer years ago.
Seeing her there, and also some of the other young people who lost parents to cancer, was powerful. My former student is a bright, capable, mature, sweet individual. To think that she came into her own while growing up without her father helps me come to terms with my fears.
None of my doctors (and I have several) has ever indicated to me that I have a negative prognosis. But there are no guarantees for those who have finished treatment for cancer, and I am well aware of this. So, it is very difficult for me to shake off the fear that I am just about to die from breast cancer. Of course, the worst part is fearing that I might not be there to raise my amazing, beloved daughters.
But seeing the folks there, all with their different cancer stories, made me face the fear and put a face on it. And the face wasn’t terrible; instead, it was the face of a former student, of one of the event speakers who lost her mother, of other young people at the event who have clearly been touched by cancer … children who lose a parent can grow up to be whole people, nice kids who go to college, have friends, passions, a good life.
While I don’t want to think of these things, I do. I have to face the fear in order to be present in the present moment. I have to come to terms with scary thoughts in order to be able to stare down the cold fear, everyday.
At the Relay, it was good to have a lot of warm hands reaching out, coaxing me to the other side of the chilliness.