Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Relay for Life Experience

Note: This post was originally written on 18 April 2010 at 3:11am.

Bender Arena, American University, Washington, DC

It has been a long, long time since I have done anything remotely like this-- Midnight Madness with Youth-to-Youth in middle school and Word of Life in early high school are the closest equivalents that come to mind. Why? Put briefly, all-nighters do not agree with me. I surprised even myself when I seriously entertained the thought of coming to this event. However, it seemed appropriate to do something after losing three friends to cancer in the course of a year, so here I am. I relay in memory of Gail Parady, Fred Holliday, Jean Moore, and Paulette Hilchie, and I relay in honor of the ongoing fights against cancer by Jinny Scott [update: and Ann Kippley].

This is a truly unique event: part memorial, part fundraiser, part celebration. Each participant donated at least $10 as an entrance fee; many donated or fundraised more than that from family or friends. Most of us are walking with a friend or family member in mind-- a victim, a survivor, a caregiver. There are even survivors among our number here...they are some of the leaders of the event, and they walked the first lap as we all cheered them on.

The luminaria ceremony was probably the most touching part of Relay. People purchased these bags and dedicated them in memory of those who have died; we all walked around the track in silence for about 10 minutes after they were illuminated. One of my friends was a major organizer of Relay; he celebrated his birthday today and lost his dad to cancer about five years ago. It was heart-wrenching to watch him and the others during the luminaria ceremony-- it was a poignant reminder of why we are all really here.

Despite all this, the core theme of the event is "Celebrations." Accordingly, my team chose a "Happy Retirement" theme for ourselves and we dressed up as various ages and stages of retirees. We also made a sign for our "campsite" that says, "Our team is RE-TIRED of cancer."

It has been a mostly high-energy evening full of entertainment. As I write, there is a "Miss American" drag contest going on. Five guys got dressed up in fancy gowns and did a little catwalk. There has been a lot of music, ranging from an ongoing DJ dance party, to two a cappella groups, to to two rather bad bands, to a bagpiper. The music is keeping us all going at this late hour-- it is now 03:40. There has also been a lot of donated food and drink-- Chipotle, crepes, sodas, and more. The stuff that really keeps most people going is the Red Bull, I suppose, which makes a good deal of sense.

Other activities that have been going on include board games at different campsites, volleyball, frisbee, soccer, and the eternally popular bounce house.

I don't know that I am going to have the energy to make it all the way through the event. I have certainly done my best, and my knee has held up remarkably well, in spite of all the stress I've put it through. Regardless, this has already been a remarkable experience. We collectively raised over $40,000 for cancer research, heard some remarkable stories, and partied like it was 1995. I guess all I can say is-- Relay on!


Update: I made it through until about 5:30 in the morning before returning to my dorm and crashing. The final fundraising count was nearly $45k. I firmly believe that Relay for Life is an important way for a community to rally around cancer survivors and caretakers, and to remember those who died, while fighting back against the worst six-letter word in the dictionary. I plan to participate again next year, and urge others to do the same.

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