The town I live in really rallies in time of need, and thus, each year holds a HUGE Relay For Life event at the local high school. It seems that everybody and anybody comes out to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Every school, club, organization, church, local farmer, and good old boy has a team and a fundraising booth. Rain doesn’t keep these people from raising funds–the event has been known to be held indoors during inclement weather! Until I moved here, I had never heard of such an event, but it has become a normal yearly routine. We make our appearance every year, armed with cash to donate and shoes to walk the track a few times for my school’s team.
Here’s a picture of me and Wyatt at the 2009 event:
Here’s the thing for me though: I have never had a great relationship with cancer. I have been leery of participating too hardcore in this event because I couldn’t see where the seriousness of cancer and the celebration of life and community came together. (Don’t worry, I see it now.) Secretly, I have been a little uneasy about some of the big fundraisers and what they really mean to people. I have worried that my kids see it as a big party or celebration where they get to run around spending money (which is sort of what it has been, since we give them money and let them run around) rather than a serious event where we pause and reflect. Of course, it is entirely my job to tell my kids what we’re doing and why it is important, but I just never really wanted to talk about it. (Being a parent is hard.) (Also reality is kind of hard–Relay For Life is both a serious event and a celebration!)
Like many major events, Relay For Life comes with a t-shirt for the team members. Last year I noticed that most people had a white t-shirt and that some had a purple shirt. “Oooh!” I said, “look at those people! They get a purple shirt! That’s WAY better than white!” That’s when a nearby purple shirt wearer turned around and emblazoned across the back was the word SURVIVOR. I instantly realized my mistake and took back my glee. “Oh wait–the purple shirters are CANCER survivors. Never mind, I’ll gladly take a white shirt.”
Fast forward to January 2012 where I was meeting with someone from the American Cancer Society. She bombarded me with questions: did I have a wig? A mastectomy bra? A calendar? A gas card? A support group? A t-shirt? I answered yeps and nopes in the right order and she came back with a bag full of cancer schwag. In her hand though, was a purple t-shirt. With the word SURVIVOR emblazoned across the back. I stared at it for a beat then took it from her and stuffed it into my bag. (I also thought about those awful vacation t-shirts put into a cancer theme: I was diagnosed with cancer and all I got was this stupid shirt!)
A few weeks later, I pulled my purple shirt out of the drawer and put it on. I reminded my husband of my purple shirt faux pas at last year’s Relay event and how I really didn’t EVER want the purple shirt. He let me finish my story and then said, “You know what? I like the purple shirt.” I guess I looked confused because he followed with, “It has the word SURVIVOR on the back.” If this was the movies, some great theme song would have played right then.
Although I am in the midst of treatment and nobody has really said the word CURE to me, I feel confident that I will be a survivor. I have no doubt that I will leave this cancer misery behind (chemotherapy side effects are torture) and continue on to my dream of retirement at the beach. I predict that my kids will not attend the Relay for Life events with blinders on anymore. And for the rest of my life, I will be the wearer of the different shirt with the word SURVIVOR emblazoned across the back.