By Kathy Huggins Pimentel
The words "cancer" and “hope” together in the same sentence? Nowadays, yes! I’ve been a volunteer with Relay For Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, for the last 10 years.
After losing both parents to cancer (my dad died when I was just 7 years old), I needed to fight back against cancer! Our local community was hosting a Relay For Life event and I attended; I’ll admit I am a Relay “junkie” or better yet, a Relay For Lifer! I was hooked after attending my first event. They provided me, and many others, the opportunity to get involved – to empower ourselves in the battle against cancer.
Our community has embraced Relay For Life for the last 12 years (and has raised over $9 million for the American Cancer Society). This is a huge feat for a community of just less than 200,000 people.
Relay For Life events are held nationwide as well as internationally.
The event is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, garnering support for their four core areas – research, education,
advocacy and patient services.
In addition to fundraising, the event also offers another very important aspect – the opportunity to celebrate cancer survivors and honor their caregivers. Most Relay For Life events are held at a high school or college track area. Teams and participants gather to walk around the track, all day and night. The 24-hour aspect of the event is to remind everyone that cancer patients are dealing with the disease 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patients cannot take a “break” from cancer when they are too tired or don’t feel like dealing with the disease anymore.
During the event, there is a Luminaria Ceremony, usually held late in the evening. Hundreds of bags (at our community’s event, we had over 5,000 bags) are placed around the track. Each bag has the name of a person on it, either a cancer survivor or someone who has lost their fight to cancer. The bags are lit with candles and the names are “illuminated.” The track lights are dimmed and the flickering candles burn throughout the night. It is truly a sight to behold and the images remain with you forever. It is a bitter-sweet moment, as we honor all cancer survivors and remember loved ones who are no longer with us. There’s typically not a dry eye around the track during this ceremony.
Cancer has become an important part of my life, as strange as that may sound to some of you. Numerous relatives have succumbed to the disease – a disease that doesn’t discriminate against gender or age.
A heartbreaking example is that of my best friend. A few years ago, she gave birth to her first son. The baby was immediately taken to Children’s Hospital as everyone suspected there was something terribly wrong.
Less than 24 hours after his birth, we learned that baby Wylie was born with liver cancer, the odds of which are astronomically low.
At five days old, baby Wylie started chemotherapy, but it did not result in the desired outcome to shrink the tumor. Wylie was put on the organ donor transplant list, and at the tender age of three months he received a new liver. His body rejected the new liver, and a month later he received his second transplant. However, by this time, his fragile body could not tolerate the heavy arsenal of assaults and he passed away.
It was a shock beyond belief. Long-time Relay For Life supporters, Wylie’s parents have recommitted their allegiance to the event. Now, together with a new blessed, healthy son, they will forever honor Wylie through their participation.
Since first becoming active in Relay For Life, my family has received four cancer diagnoses: husband, father-in-law, brother-in-law and aunt – all of whom are survivors. Relay For Life has become a family tradition. We volunteer each year at the event and fundraise for many months.
By involving ourselves and our children, we echo Gandhi’s saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We cannot fight the battle alone, but together we will continue to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients and their families.
We hope and pray for a cure to cancer. In the meantime, we will continue to do everything within our personal power to battle this disease, and hope to make the shift from honoring cancer survivors, to no longer hearing the words “You have cancer.” Relay For Life offers that hope. One of my favorite books is “There’s No Place Like Hope, A Guide to Beating Cancer in Mind-sized Bits” by Vickie Girard.
Two of my favorite HOPE quotes are from this book:
If you don’t feel hopeless, you won’t feel helpless.
Hope is like a gift, both to give and receive.
We all know someone who has been touched by cancer, perhaps even you, the reader, are fighting the disease. I leave you with these words, also from the same book, and hope that you will empower yourself in whatever battle you may be facing in your life.
“Regardless of the diagnosis, each and every day that we breathe we are living with – not dying of – cancer. Otherwise, we have been dying of life since the day we were born.” ~Vickie Girard
[For more information on the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life, please visit www.cancer.org or call 1-800-ACS-2345]