This blog post has been half-written on the back end of my blog for weeks. I started writing it when I first began my Relay for Life funding for the year. I started on such a great note that I wasn’t too concerned about highlighting it on my blog, but due to recent developments I feel like this needs to be brought up now.
I’m a people-oriented person. The people in my life tend to leave a pretty deep mark on me as an individual. It isn’t that I’m necessarily easily influenced or shapeable. It’s that I place a high value on the relationships in my life. Losing someone close to you can change the way you view relationships. It has, for me.
In junior high, a friend of mine lost her mother. It seemed like only days after my father’s passing, when in reality, it was months. Unlike my father’s shocking, sudden passing due to heart attack while baling hay, this friend’s mother lost a long battle with cancer. Left in the wake of my father’s passing, I felt at a loss for how to ease her pain.
When Daddy died, I was given a stuffed animal. An elephant. It had offered me some sense of comfort. I slept with it, took it almost everywhere with me. For a 12-year-old, it seemed like such a token. I’m not sure what it was a token of, but it became something bigger. Despite knowing I’d miss it, I gave her that elephant. The only thing I had to give was strength and support, and that elephant embodied it.
I don’t know where the elephant is anymore. I do know that he’s has at least six other owners since that little girl passed it on to another child whose mother was lost to cancer.
I don’t have elephants to give. I can’t offer that to the world anymore. And while not all of the elephant recipients lost a parent to cancer, that first exchange, giving my friend that elephant, left a mark. Since then, cancer has touched my life in many, many ways.
Freshman year of college, I should have been learning how to live away from home. I should have been having fun. I should have been experiencing a lot of interesting “firsts.” Instead, I was missing class for blood tests and CAT scans, because my unique cocktail of migraines, eye problems, and other issues all screamed “brain tumor.” Almost a year after the doctor appointments began, I was confirmed as being tumor- and cancer-free.
Through my extended social media networks, I crossed paths with a lovely woman named Leontien. She is full of life and light, young and vivacious. She dared to leave her native country to come to America and live the dream. She and her family now have a dairy in Indiana. Leontien is currently in her second fight with skin cancer. There is a Facebook fan page devoted to offering love and support for her from her friends all over the world. In the midst of her battle, she managed to win “Indiana Dairy Producer of the Year,” showing that even in the most difficult of times she is still committed to running the best operation she can.
I have two cousins who under the age of thirty fought, and won against, cancer. I have mentors, family members, and friends who have survived that massive trial. There is someone especially close to me who won that battle years before we met, and chooses not to divulge it. He thinks people think of you differently as a survivor, and he is an unassuming man who does not like attention. My life would not be what it is without him.
Why am I telling these stories?
Because cancer can impact each and every one of us. Because of that, I Relay.
The Relay for Life is an event hosted in different locations all over the U.S. that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Each year, North Central College hosts a Relay for Life event. There’s a lot of culture, tradition, and ceremony involved in the Relay, but the long-and-short of it is that for a 12-hour period (5 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next day) different Relay teams come together to show support for patients and survivors and memorialize those lost. For the entire duration of the event, one team member from each team must be walking the track at all times. Leading up to the event, individuals raise money that is then pooled with their team’s. These teams’ funds are then combined and turned over to the American Cancer Society.
These funds are used to donate wigs to patients who have lost their hair because of chemo. They pay for the production of valuable informational material like brochures, books, websites, and videos. They provide funds for patient services like transportation to and from appointments, support groups, and “buddy programs” that all help ease the stress for patients and their caregivers.
It’s a very emotional event. We celebrate life, we mourn loss, and we solidify the beautiful human nature that is so full of fight and compassion. This will be my fourth (and final) Relay for Life at North Central College, and I have yet to attend an event where I was not moved to tears. Conversely, at some point I’ve always also laughed until I cried. It isn’t just about the funds. It’s about a united campus community coming together to show hope and determination for a brighter future.
This year’s Relay journey has already been amazing. I set out hoping to beat my Relay for Life fundraising high of $310. Val Wagner of Wag’n Tales contacted me one night to say an anonymous donor would match my funds if I could reach $315 by March 31. I reached that with the help of my social media circles as well as some donations from local friends and family. Suddenly I had $630, and the donations from members of my social media community continued. As I write this, I sit at $775.
I am moved by the outpouring. That’s amazing. That’s a miracle. But…why does the miracle have to end there? Since then, I’ve plateaued in my fundraising efforts. However, the fire has been rekindled.
Recently, I was on the phone with my friend Ray Prock. In passing, Ray mentioned that I should read a blog post by a mutual friend, Brandie McCallum. I did. The post made my heart drop to the pit of my stomach. I’ll admit, upon reading the words “I have breast cancer” on my friend’s blog, my thoughts were selfish. “How could cancer once again impact my life this way?!” Brandie is a ray of light. She is a mentor. She is a role model. She is a friend. She is a connector. She is a giver. She is a supporter. Her prognosis is good; her blog post states it is one with a higher survival rate. And while I can’t be there to hug Brandie, I CAN recommit to fundraising on behalf of all of the people in my life who have been touched by this adversity.
I am a people-oriented person. The people in my life mean the world to me. Their hurt, happiness, struggles, inspiration, and spirit impact me. Emotions are contagious, and I catch them easily. Too often, I have had to see determination and zest for life exhibited by those fighting cancer. As a tribute to them, I’m going to do my best to capture that spirit and apply it to the rest of my fundraising.
To make a donation and learn more about my Relay efforts, check out my Relay Center here. To learn more about the Relay for Life events and where the funds go, click here. I hope you choose to donate, but I completely understand and support the decision or necessity not to. In the case that donating is not an option, please share this post and my Relay for Life fundraising information with friends and family. I don’t want to set a goal, because I’d love to go beyond whatever cap I could imagine for this.