The American Cancer Society's 2011 Relay for Life local fundraiser will be held this Friday, June 3, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m at Lafayette High School. Thanks to the support of the , this event has helped bring the district's communities together for 11 years. The American Cancer Society funds cancer research, provides information on the latest in cancer treatment, along with information on health and wellness, and lobbies for support from lawmakers on issues related to all cancers.
The main activity at Relay for Life is the relay. Participants and teams are sponsored to walk the track all night because "cancer never sleeps." While there, you will see people continuously walking the track. Friends and family walk together, and others are waiting to take over as each participant completes his or her sequence of laps.
I plan to attend. I'll make a donation, and participate in the Survivor's Lap at 7 p.m. The Survivor's Lap is open to anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis no matter (as the Rockwood School District website says) "if it has been one day or one decade" since diagnosis.
I first attended Relay for Life at Rockwood Summit High School in June 2009. I was in my first year of cancer remission, and I went out of curiosity. Like many, I had been aware of the event for a few years, but I had not been an active supporter. As a mom of young children, I was always busy working, running errands, arranging play dates and scheduling music and art lessons. However, my illness brought all of that to a halt, at least temporarily. During treatment, I realized the number of people who had contributed to my ability to overcome my disease: medical professionals, researchers, and volunteers from all areas of life. When I began to feel better, I was ready to give something back.
The mood at Relay for Life is friendly and community-oriented. The track is large, and different activities simultaneously occur. During the 2009 event, there were somber moments, such as the Luminaria Ceremony, when participants walk the dark track in silence with luminaries to honor those who have been touched by cancer. Some moments are private as friends and loved ones gather to remember a loved one who is no longer with them.
Most moments are festive. In 2009, my children and their friends got to shave their elementary school principal's head as part of a fundraising opportunity. As we walked the track, other groups offered games and activities for a small donation. There is something invigorating about joining with others on a lovely summer evening. We walk, exchange pleasantries and stories, and help our children play simple games while recognizing and supporting this important cause.
The most important realization I made during the 2009 event was that several acquaintances from my community also had been touched by cancer. Relay for Life helped us come together and recognize our common bonds. This was important to me at the time, because as anyone who has had a serious medical diagnosis knows, the experience can be lonely even with the support of family and friends. We are taken out of our normal lives into a realm where daily occurrences seem uncontrollable. For maybe the first time, we realize how dependent we are on others, or how our bodies can behave in ways we could not predict. We must draw on our own inner strength to guide us. Once we have had this experience, or if we are currently in the midst of it, it is validating to meet others who understand.
If your life has been touched by cancer due to your own diagnosis or that of a loved one, or if you are like I once was – aware of Relay for Life but unsure how to get involved – contact representatives of this year's Relay for Life. Or, stop by this Friday and meet others in your community who are working for a common good.
Relay for Life is accessible, family-friendly and good exercise. Your first visit might last a couple of hours, but you will find that you look forward to it next year.