Relay for Life: One Night’s Journey

By

Relay for Life: One Night’s Journey
Relay for Life

Relay for Life comes every year in the spring as a reminder of the cancer victims lost and hope for a cure for those living with cancer. I hate cancer. Cancer has taken so many close to me…friends, mother, in-laws, sister and husband. Every year I commit, in ink, in my calendar the date of the walk and look to gathering a team or being on a team for the event.

The relay is a sixteen hour walk starting on a Friday evening at six and ending with a closing ceremony at ten or noon the next day. These events are held all over the country and involve survivors, caretakers, teams, friends and family members. In my case, the walk is held in the beautiful state of Maine.

I am always too slow in getting pledges, as if to be saying on some unconscious level, we don’t need this event. As I begin to design the white bags that later will be filled with sand to hold them down, and a candle which will burn through the night, I reflect on the importance of this walk. I decorate a bag for each person that has been impacted by cancer and has touched my life. I personalize each bag with pictures, drawings, sayings or just words that create a visual for each person I know. I pack my tent and layers of clothing (here in Maine it can be very cold, sometimes 30 degrees, during the wee hours of the morning). We may endure rain, fog, thundershowers and, some years, hail. Clothing needs to address all our needs.

As I arrive at the high school track, this year appears no different than others. Teams are putting up their tents, vendors are offering coffee, burgers and snacks, and the luminary bags are being set out along the track. The night’s preparations are being made.

The opening ceremonies begin, and I listen as my sister, chairperson for this year, shares the importance of the relay and what we are all about to undertake over the next 16 hours. A moving story by a couple who are both cancer survivors creates a sense of hope. Then, the talking stops, and the first walk around the track begins. Survivors, with medallions around their necks marking the number of years they have participated, and their caretakers are the first and only ones to walk the first lap. The young and old, some with bald heads from treatment of radiation or chemotherapy, all walk together with the teams, family members and friends cheering and clapping vigorously.

The night begins. This is my fourth relay. The first was in 2002, three months after my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I look forward, and yet, am never quite sure what the emotional impact of the night will have on me. This year, the faces, once again, remind me that cancer affects so many. Their faces tell a story of triumph.

This year (2007) I am part of my sister’s team, along with a niece, friends, my two daughters and my stepfather. The plan is that we will walk all night. We pitch our tent, decorate our site in keeping with the theme of the power of purple, set our lawn chairs by the track and begin walking.

The team next to our campsite sold, as part of a donation, nylon string to hold beads. Each subsequent time on passing their site, we could take a bead to mark the number of laps we have taken. This will prove to be a great motivator during the night as our legs begin to slow!

I am filled with anticipation of the night! My daughters and step-dad plan to walk the whole night. One team member is supposed to be on the track at all times, but we have made a pact to walk together throughout the event.

The time is 6:45 pm. We begin. I am energized! I know I am doing my part to raise awareness and to fight the fight against cancer. The night may be long but worth the effort.

At nine, volunteers begin lighting the candles inside each bag. The track is completely lined with bags. These will burn brightly through the night. They will keep me motivated…one for my Mom, one for my husband, grandparents of my children, my sister, two good friends and a woman from the local bank. Their names and pictures are on the bags…in memory of…in honor of…. These will keep me going long into the night.

At 9:30 pm, each team reads their names out loud. The sound echoes in the stillness of the night. This year, it takes almost an hour to read all the names, many of whom are strangers to my ears. As the names are read, the walk continues in silence. Some walkers pause by a luminary of a person who they know. Tears, soft spoken words, a prayer and laughter at remembering a funny story are shared. Off to the side on a hill, luminaries spell out the words HOPE. At the end of the reading, the bags on the hill are quickly shifted to form the word CURE.

After this part of the event is done, the DJ takes over again with lively music, talking heightens again, and the walkers resume their pace. Doughnuts and coffee are offered through the night, and pizza, always a favorite, is brought in at midnight. I walk with one daughter, sometimes both, sometimes with my step-dad and sometimes alone.

As the night progresses, blisters begin to form on my feet. I have been walking previous to this night, but not this distance. My sneakers begin to lose their comfortable feel. At one am, I have collected 40 beads equaling ten miles! There are several hours left, and now I am curious to see how many beads I will have at the end of the event.

At 2 am, I begin to slow down. The tendons behind my left knee hurt. I change shoes to see if it helps. It doesn’t. I go back to my worn sneakers. My oldest daughter, who is plagued by a bad back, decides to take a break and lie down for while. My niece and sister have long ago disappeared into their car for a few hours of sleep. My youngest daughter, step-dad and I keep walking.

At 2:30 am, I hit a wall. I not only hit it, I smack into it. My legs and hips hurt, the sneakers provide little support to my tired feet. Can I keep going? Will I see the morning sunrise? Will I succumb to the sleeping bag awaiting me in our tent?

At 3 am, my daughter and I decide to run. YES, RUN! We think it may loosen our muscles and tight tendons. We run for 45 minutes. We pick up speed. I feel like I am sailing around the track. I am renewed! The wall is broken! I have new energy as I weave around the walkers spaced intermittently on the track.

At 4:30 am, the first signs of daylight emerge. I know soon I will hear the sweet sounds of birds stirring in the early morning hours. At the first chirps, I know I have almost made it. I remind myself of all the pain, aches and suffering people who have cancer endure. This is one night; yes, I can endure this in their memory and honor.

The sun begins to rise. Sleepy faces emerge from tents and take to the track again. I feel exhilarated! I have 72 beads – 18 miles! My daughter thinks we should try for 104 beads or 26 miles. I look at her like she has two heads but I will try. She has helped keep me motivated through the night, so I will keep going.

I keep walking. The blisters are hurting. My hips provide little support to my tired feet. I keep going. My sneakers feel like weights.

In the end, I had 94 beads, white, purple and clear, one for each lap I walked – a total of 23.5 miles. My daughter and step dad had 104 – 26 miles. I limped around my last lap hoping that I won’t disappoint those I held in my heart all night long. The reason I did this was for each of them.

The relay came to an end. I loaded my things in the car. I had not failed. I had succeeded in raising money and awareness of cancer and helping, in my own way, change HOPE to CURE.

This was for you, Mom, Becky, Bob, Nanny and Bampi, who I have lost. And to others who will keep walking their walk and carry the hope…Maureen, Diana, Lex, Deb and many others who I only know from the luminaries that burned through the night.

About this writer

  • Relay for Life

    Relay for Life comes every year in the spring as a reminder of the cancer victims lost and hope for a cure for those living with cancer. I hate cancer. Cancer has taken so many close to me…friends, mother, in-laws, sister and husband. Every year I commit, in ink, in my calendar the date of the walk and look to gathering a team or being on a team for the event.

    The relay is a sixteen hour walk starting on a Friday evening at six and ending with a closing ceremony at ten or noon the next day. These events are held all over the country and involve survivors, caretakers, teams, friends and family members. In my case, the walk is held in the beautiful state of Maine.

    I am always too slow in getting pledges, as if to be saying on some unconscious level, we don’t need this event. As I begin to design the white bags that later will be filled with sand to hold them down, and a candle which will burn through the night, I reflect on the importance of this walk. I decorate a bag for each person that has been impacted by cancer and has touched my life. I personalize each bag with pictures, drawings, sayings or just words that create a visual for each person I know. I pack my tent and layers of clothing (here in Maine it can be very cold, sometimes 30 degrees, during the wee hours of the morning). We may endure rain, fog, thundershowers and, some years, hail. Clothing needs to address all our needs.

    As I arrive at the high school track, this year appears no different than others. Teams are putting up their tents, vendors are offering coffee, burgers and snacks, and the luminary bags are being set out along the track. The night’s preparations are being made.

    The opening ceremonies begin, and I listen as my sister, chairperson for this year, shares the importance of the relay and what we are all about to undertake over the next 16 hours. A moving story by a couple who are both cancer survivors creates a sense of hope. Then, the talking stops, and the first walk around the track begins. Survivors, with medallions around their necks marking the number of years they have participated, and their caretakers are the first and only ones to walk the first lap. The young and old, some with bald heads from treatment of radiation or chemotherapy, all walk together with the teams, family members and friends cheering and clapping vigorously.

    The night begins. This is my fourth relay. The first was in 2002, three months after my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I look forward, and yet, am never quite sure what the emotional impact of the night will have on me. This year, the faces, once again, remind me that cancer affects so many. Their faces tell a story of triumph.

    This year (2007) I am part of my sister’s team, along with a niece, friends, my two daughters and my stepfather. The plan is that we will walk all night. We pitch our tent, decorate our site in keeping with the theme of the power of purple, set our lawn chairs by the track and begin walking.

    The team next to our campsite sold, as part of a donation, nylon string to hold beads. Each subsequent time on passing their site, we could take a bead to mark the number of laps we have taken. This will prove to be a great motivator during the night as our legs begin to slow!

    I am filled with anticipation of the night! My daughters and step-dad plan to walk the whole night. One team member is supposed to be on the track at all times, but we have made a pact to walk together throughout the event.

    The time is 6:45 pm. We begin. I am energized! I know I am doing my part to raise awareness and to fight the fight against cancer. The night may be long but worth the effort.

    At nine, volunteers begin lighting the candles inside each bag. The track is completely lined with bags. These will burn brightly through the night. They will keep me motivated…one for my Mom, one for my husband, grandparents of my children, my sister, two good friends and a woman from the local bank. Their names and pictures are on the bags…in memory of…in honor of…. These will keep me going long into the night.

    At 9:30 pm, each team reads their names out loud. The sound echoes in the stillness of the night. This year, it takes almost an hour to read all the names, many of whom are strangers to my ears. As the names are read, the walk continues in silence. Some walkers pause by a luminary of a person who they know. Tears, soft spoken words, a prayer and laughter at remembering a funny story are shared. Off to the side on a hill, luminaries spell out the words HOPE. At the end of the reading, the bags on the hill are quickly shifted to form the word CURE.

    After this part of the event is done, the DJ takes over again with lively music, talking heightens again, and the walkers resume their pace. Doughnuts and coffee are offered through the night, and pizza, always a favorite, is brought in at midnight. I walk with one daughter, sometimes both, sometimes with my step-dad and sometimes alone.

    As the night progresses, blisters begin to form on my feet. I have been walking previous to this night, but not this distance. My sneakers begin to lose their comfortable feel. At one am, I have collected 40 beads equaling ten miles! There are several hours left, and now I am curious to see how many beads I will have at the end of the event.

    At 2 am, I begin to slow down. The tendons behind my left knee hurt. I change shoes to see if it helps. It doesn’t. I go back to my worn sneakers. My oldest daughter, who is plagued by a bad back, decides to take a break and lie down for while. My niece and sister have long ago disappeared into their car for a few hours of sleep. My youngest daughter, step-dad and I keep walking.

    At 2:30 am, I hit a wall. I not only hit it, I smack into it. My legs and hips hurt, the sneakers provide little support to my tired feet. Can I keep going? Will I see the morning sunrise? Will I succumb to the sleeping bag awaiting me in our tent?

    At 3 am, my daughter and I decide to run. YES, RUN! We think it may loosen our muscles and tight tendons. We run for 45 minutes. We pick up speed. I feel like I am sailing around the track. I am renewed! The wall is broken! I have new energy as I weave around the walkers spaced intermittently on the track.

    At 4:30 am, the first signs of daylight emerge. I know soon I will hear the sweet sounds of birds stirring in the early morning hours. At the first chirps, I know I have almost made it. I remind myself of all the pain, aches and suffering people who have cancer endure. This is one night; yes, I can endure this in their memory and honor.

    The sun begins to rise. Sleepy faces emerge from tents and take to the track again. I feel exhilarated! I have 72 beads – 18 miles! My daughter thinks we should try for 104 beads or 26 miles. I look at her like she has two heads but I will try. She has helped keep me motivated through the night, so I will keep going.

    I keep walking. The blisters are hurting. My hips provide little support to my tired feet. I keep going. My sneakers feel like weights.

    In the end, I had 94 beads, white, purple and clear, one for each lap I walked – a total of 23.5 miles. My daughter and step dad had 104 – 26 miles. I limped around my last lap hoping that I won’t disappoint those I held in my heart all night long. The reason I did this was for each of them.

    The relay came to an end. I loaded my things in the car. I had not failed. I had succeeded in raising money and awareness of cancer and helping, in my own way, change HOPE to CURE.

    This was for you, Mom, Becky, Bob, Nanny and Bampi, who I have lost. And to others who will keep walking their walk and carry the hope…Maureen, Diana, Lex, Deb and many others who I only know from the luminaries that burned through the night.

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave your mark with style

Comment in style

Stand out from the crowd and add some flare beside your comment.
Get your free Gravatar today!

Make it personal

avatar versus gravatar Close