Saturday, 8 June 2013

Relay For Life 2013

As mentioned in this blog for the last number of weeks, I have been trying to fundraise and put together a team to participate in the Relay For Life 2013 held overnight last night.  My day yesterday was spent frantically looking after little and probably non-essential details such as team drinks, food, flashlights, and items to make the evening more comfortable.  Early yesterday afternoon, my husband I witnessed a fender bender (minor accident) between a transport truck and an SUV.  We were standing at corner just as the light turned red for us.  The transport had been waiting for pedestrians to clear the intersection before he was able to finish his left hand turn.  Being in an older part of town with narrow streets, the transport had been in the far right lane with his left signal on.  The SUV had pulled up beside the truck and even went passed the white "stop" line in the intersection.  As the tractor trailer was making his turn and he was concentrating on not running up on the sidewalk of the narrow street, we heard a scraping sound.  My hubby and I turned to see the trailer scraping the front right corner of the SUV.  As my hubby exclaimed, "Oh my!", the front portion of the SUV started peeling off the front of the vehicle.  Lots of excitement ensued.  My husband found out the SUV was only a couple of months old.

After that excitement settled down, we continued on with our day.  My afternoon disappeared much too quickly and I was concerned about not getting "everything done".  You would think that I would have learned my lessons from last year about not sweating the small stuff!  I guess I'm kind of dense that way (said in a laughing manner as I really don't think I'm that dense).  So I finally got the van packed with 3 coolers, drinks, umbrellas, lawn chairs, bags of "stuff", extra clothes, blankets, etc.  Then off my daughter and I went to collect three more team members.  We added their chairs, extra clothes and blankets to our loaded van.  It was still raining lightly but it was warm.  I was relying (relaying, hee hee) on my experience from last year and so I was wearing layers of clothing to keep me dry (a turtleneck, sweatshirt, heavy woven hoodie and my Relay for Life survivor's shirt).  Needless to say I was dry and warm.  Maybe too warm.  We arrived at the site of the Relay for Life and unloaded the van of people and belongings.  I then went and parked the van.  Our tent was a large, three-sided structure in which all 8 team members fit with all our belongings.  I left my team to participate in the Cancer Survivors' Reception.  As I was walking, an older gentleman approached me and asked if I knew where the Survivors' Reception was being held.  I remember my first time attending last year and the feelings of insecurity and uncertainty as I didn't know where to go or what to do.  I took the gentleman under my wing (figuratively of course) and led him into the building where the reception was being held.  Up the stairs we went and down the hall to the area where the reception was taking place.  This year, we had to walk through the large room that held the reception last year.  That room was being used to hold and display the items for the Silent Auction.  In behind this room was another large room where my new acquaintance and I registered for the Survivors' Walk.  Upon registering, we received the yellow survivor t-shirt, a survivor lapel pin along with a ribbon emblazoned with the word "Survivor".  After registering, survivors were treated to a slice of cake, coffee, tea, water or juice, and fruit.  We were also directed to sign a "Survivors' Banner".   The Relay for Life organizers have a different banner for every year.  The survivors all sign the banner and include the year(s) that they have finished treatment(s).  I signed one last year.  As I signed the banner this year, the lady overseeing this aspect of the reception saw my name and then exclaimed "I remember you from last year!!  You were completely bald as you had just finished treatments.  Look at your hair!!"  You see I now have hair that is thick and glorious but curly....very curly.  I've been trying to let my hair grow longer but it just seems to stay the same length and get bushier.  Back to the reception.  It was fun to see some of the same faces from last year and to meet other survivors that I hadn't met before.  It still breaks my heart to see the young children wearing their yellow survivor  t-shirts.  Children shouldn't have to be dealing with this dreadful disease.  This was the first of my many moments of mixed emotions during the night.

After the Survivor's Reception, there were the opening ceremonies on the track.  As with all opening ceremonies there are short speeches from various people ranging from organizers, hosts to sponsors.  The most moving speech came from a young girl who described when and how cancer has touched her life.  Cancer first touched her young life when she lost her grandmother to cancer.  Then it was an aunt.  Then cancer visited this young girl's life again by making a home within her own body.  She was truly inspiring as she struggled to get through her speech.  As I listened, I again had mixed emotions.  Admiration was coursing through me but also sadness as I saw how thin and pale this young girl was.  She was full of vitality even as she obviously is still valiantly fighting this horrible disease.

Now it was time for the Survivors' Walk.  This is when the cancer survivors and their caregivers walk the first lap around the track led by a pipe band and "drivers"  These were people wearing cardboard "cars" to signify the many volunteers who help drive cancer patients to appointments.  As I walked this lap with my husband, people cheered and clapped.  All the way along the track, other Relay for Life teams and supporters called out individual's names, cheered and clapped.  I saw friends.  I saw some of my students.  I saw parents of students.  At the end of the lap, there was a moment of silence as we all remembered people who lost their fight with cancer.  This was another moment of roller coaster emotions for me.  I was still buoyed by the joy of surviving but was also crashing emotionally as I thought of family and more recently friends who lost their own battles with cancer.

After this lap, there was the team parade.  All the teams assembled on the track and walked/ran the lap.  At this point, my team mates joined me with our "Cathy Conquers Cancer" sign.  This is the same sign we used last year.  Last year my neighbour who is also a team member had come by to drop off her donations a couple of days before the Relay for Life 2012.  I had mentioned in passing that it was too bad we didn't have any decorations or team paraphernalia to identify ourselves.  The night of the Relay for Life 2012, my neighbour arrived at the venue with a Bristol board sign which was laminated.  It is white with neon pink lettering "Cathy Conquers Cancer".  She included on the sign a quote from my blog entry on May 16, 2012 where I had just found out I was in remission.  She also put on the sign my blog address.  Throughout this past year, that sign has sat behind my couch up against the wall where it could be straight and safe from harm.  We used the sign again last night.  As we walked the lap, my daughter and another teenage girl on our team carried the sign.  Throughout the 12 hours of the Relay For Life 2013, the "Cathy Conquers Cancer" sign danced around the track, walked around the track and leaned against the outside of our tent.  The sign has survived the rainout of last year along with the rain from this year.  This year's Relay for Life was damp but not overly cold.  The rain was more of a heavy mist.  It stopped "misting" about midnight.  It never did dry out completely but did mist on and off throughout the night.

Our team tent was located just across the track from "The Beavertail Hut" where you could buy beavertails.  Beavertails are dough which is rolled out to look like a beaver tail.  The dough is then deep-fried until cooked and then topped with various toppings including butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, lemon among many others.  They are very, very tasty.  There was also a bbq vendor which sold poutine (French fries, gravy, fresh cheese curds and bbq brisquet), pulled pork sandwiches, brisket sandwiches, etc.  All very tasty of course.  The bbq vendor closed up shop around 10 p.m.  The Beavertail Hut closed up around 12 midnight.

At 10:00 p.m. there was the Luminary Lighting Ceremony.  Luminaries are fire-retardant bags that have candles placed inside them.  On the outside the luminaries are messages from loved ones.  Luminaries are placed along the track in memory of a loved one who fought their cancers valiantly but lost the battle.  Luminaries are also placed along the track in honour of friends and family who have survived their battle with cancer.  Each bag has a personalized message.  Some bags are decorated with colouring, stickers, jewels or holes punched in a pattern.  I had bought several luminaries in honour of family and also in memory of family and personal friends.  It was a very emotional time as I lit a candle and then read the message that was illuminated by the lighted candle.  I was unprepared for the strong grief that accompanied some of these moments.  This was another time in the night of mixed emotions as I also celebrated the victories of those that were bought in honour of the various battles.  Throughout the night, the luminaries lit the way around the track.  Every time I walked passed the luminaries I bought, I slowed my pace to remember and pray.  It was sad but comforting at the same time.  Another moment of tears was when I saw the messages on the luminaries with my name on them.  My husband placed one.  Some friends placed others.  Students placed others.  "We support you."  "Always looking ahead."  "In honour of my friend who inspires me with her strength."  "You go girl!"  As the luminaries were lit, a piper played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.  It was very poignant.  The general public is encouraged to attend the Survivors' Walk as well as the Luminary Lighting and Luminary Walk.

Through the night, I visited the Silent Auction and bid on a few items.  The Silent Auction was to go through until 3 a.m.  I went in to check on the status of my bids around 1 a.m. and discovered they were closing it down.  I won all three items that I bid on.  I needed help to carry it to the van.

Throughout the night, there was a mixture of live bands along with a DJ.  The track was completely mucky and sticky.  I kept thinking that it would make good potter's clay as the muck sucked at my boots as I walked along.  At one point, one of my best friends and I stopped in front of the music tent and we moved to the music in the safety of the grass.  I looked at my friend and said "You know we only live once.  We're wearing rubber boots.  Why don't we dance in the mud?!"  We moved onto the track and tried to dance.  As we moved our hips, our boots sunk into the mud and it got harder to move our feet.  We didn't give up and we had a great time.  As I danced, a young man who was jogging slogging on the track stopped and took my hand.  We danced and twirled to the music.  We then went on to doing the "bump" in the mud.  It was great fun.  The young man waved as he continued on his run through the muddy track.  I tried to move my feet and they were stuck.  My friend laughed and laughed as she heard the very audible suck/slurp of the mud trying to keep my feet in place.  We had a great time even though it was still misting.

I stayed up all night.  I found it was better to keep moving than to stop and have the joints seize up.  I could feel blisters forming on my feet inside the rubber boots.  I was wearing 2 pairs of socks in order to keep my feet warm.  My feet were warm and dry but there was definitely some friction and blisters happening.  In hindsight, there was always somebody on the track throughout the night.  There was also a 12 hour volleyball game involving various teams and people.  There were definitely less people after midnight on the track.  Some people retired to their tents to catch some naps.  Other people packed up their belongings and left the event.  I remember walking the track about 3 a.m.  It was dark and damp with very few people on the track.  That particular lap seemed to be very long.  It reminded me of the middle chemotherapy treatments where there seemed to be no end in sight.  At 3 a.m. this morning, every step was an effort.  Every step I could feel the pressure of the blisters.  My hips ached.  My knees were tired.  What was really interesting is that at 4 a.m. the sky started to look a little lighter.  At that point, I found the laps were less strenuous.  However, as we sat in our tent, we were also looking at the clock a lot.  The time couldn't march on fast enough.  We were tired.  We were sore.  We were damp.

Going into the event yesterday afternoon, I expected that the young members of our team would be the ones that would be up all night.  The youngsters were the ones who were able to sleep in various cramped positions on the lawn chairs.  It was the older adults of the team that were up all night.  We danced, we walked, we laughed and we talked.

At 6:30 this morning, the organizers had a closing ceremony and an opportunity to pledge support to continue to fight back against cancer.  Following the closing ceremonies, the final lap occurred around 7 this morning.  I walked it with my husband and other members of our team.  We then packed up, cleaned up our site and headed for home.  I fell into bed at 7:45 a.m. exhausted.  I don't have much motivation or energy to do anything today hence the long post.

Thank you again for everyone's financial and/or emotional support.  I'll take a couple of days off and then start revving up for my students' Spring Recital on Friday.